Smoking in Movies

Research has shown that 44% of new smokers start because of exposure to smoking in the movies. A child is six times more likely to smoke, if they see a favorite star smoking in a movie. If they see the star smoke in three consecutive movies they are sixteen times more likely to smoke!

Results from recent research by Dartmouth Medical School are shocking. The research team surveyed more than 2,200 children ages 9-12 from twenty-six schools in New Hampshire and Vermont. For the baseline survey, children were asked about the movies they had seen and their smoking behavior. Children who had already tried smoking were not included in the follow-up surveys.

By the third survey two years later, 10% of the children had started smoking. Results from the three surveys show that each child had seen an average of 37 out of the 150 movies they were asked about, exposing them to an average of 150 smoking occurrences. About 80% of the children’s exposure was in youth rated movies (G, PG, PG-13).

“The results indicated that the earliest exposure to movie smoking was as important as exposure measured at the two follow-ups in predicting smoking initiation,” said lead author Dr. Linda Titus-Ernstoff. “This finding suggests that the process which leads children to initiate smoking begins much earlier than adolescence. Viewing smoking in the movies may influence the decision to smoke in more than a third of children.” Exposure to movie smoking during early childhood is as influential as exposure that occurs nearer the time of smoking initiation.

Through the first seven months of 2011, major Hollywood studios released at least 15 youth-rated movies with tobacco imagery.

FOX; Monte Carlo and Water for Elephants

SONY; Country Strong, The Green Hornet, Jumping the Broom, Priest, Midnight in Paris

PARAMOUNT; Rango and Justin Bieber

WARNER BROS.; Sucker Punch, Unknown, The Rite

UNIVERSAL; Cowboys & Aliens, Hanna, Larry Crowne

Research published in Pediatrics, 2005 by A. Charlesworth and S. Glantz estimates that 390,000 adolescents start smoking each year because of smoking in movies. When combined with the formula used to calculate average lifetime revenue and profit per smoker in the 2001-2004 Annual Report of both Philip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds, each year smoking in movies will assure U. S. tobacco companies of $4.1 billion in revenue and $894 million in profit. These are U.S. values only, not global values.

Cowboys & Aliens PG-13, distributed by Universal (Comcast), was produced by DreamWorks with Reliance (India), Relativity and Imagine Entertainment. It was shot in New Mexico on a reported $100 million budget, with public subsidies.

Smoking in movies accelerated after 1990, when the Tobacco Industry promised Congress it would stop paying for brand placement in movies. Smoking in PG-13 movies increased 50% in the first two years after the Tobacco Industry signed agreements with the state Attorneys General promising to end product placement in movies.

1983 report from PR firm Rogers and Cowan to RJ Reynolds – “We are pleased to report the excellent brand identification for Camel Filters will occur in this upcoming comedy motion picture, Two of a Kind. In fact, a pack of these cigarettes will be the major focus of an entire scene…”

Six years later Representative Thomas Lukens asked RJ Reynolds for details about any arrangements made regarding the film Two of a Kind. “To the best of our knowledge, neither the Company or Rogers and Cowan was asked to provide product or promotional materials.”

1989 Philip Morris Research Study – “We believe that most of the strong, positive images for cigarettes and smoking are created by cinema and television… It is reasonable to assume that films and personalities have more influence on consumers than a static poster of the letters from a B&H pack hung on a washing line… If branded cigarette advertising is to take full advantage of these images, it has to do more than simply achieve package recognition – it has to feed off and exploit the image source.”

1990 Philip Morris response to the Federal Trade Commission – “Philip Morris has not taken part in any placements of its cigarette products or brands since 1988. Philip Morris has no present intention to engage in any efforts to obtain placements of its cigarette products or brands in films in the future.” Ellen Merlo, vice president marketing

1990 memo from Frank Devaney of PR firm Rogers and Cowan to John Dean of RJ Reynolds – “Beginning in 1980 Rogers and Cowan was retained to develop a strong relationship with the television and motion picture industry, and keep the presence of smoking and the RJR brand as an integral part of the industry…Today, the presence of cigarettes and smoking situations are considered a vital part of our program. Subliminal reminders are still used. Such things as providing merchandise with brand identification…The placement activities continue…We have also developed a strong sampling program, which now provides 188 industry leaders and stars their favorite brands each month. This group provides support to the intention of the program to continue smoking within the industry and within the productions they influence.”

Michael Ong, MD, chair of the California Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee – “…approximately 44% of adolescent smoking initiation can be attributed to exposure to onscreen smoking. It is unconscionable that one state program threatens to undermine our state’s public health achievements and goals, our investment in tobacco prevention, and our savings in health care costs, particularly in a time of declining state revenues.”

On May 10, 2007 the Motion Picture Association of America announced “all smoking will be considered in movie ratings”. Over the next two years the MPAA did not elevate the rating of a single motion picture released to theaters because of its tobacco content. The MPAA also failed to apply ‘tobacco descriptors’ - in the explanatory labels associated with each MPAA rating – to most youth-rated movies with smoking. Of the movies released in the two years after the MPAA announcement, and that achieved ‘Top Ten’ box office ranking for at least one week, the following featured smoking or tobacco.

  1. 22% of G and PG rated movies
  2. 64% of PG-13 rated movies
  3. 80% of R rated movies