Smoke Screen

The tobacco industry has long used movies to reinforce the glamorous image of smoking. Historically, the industry spent millions to have on-screen heroes and sex symbols smoke their brands. For example, Philip Morris paid $42,000 to have their Marlboro brand shown in Superman II (Warner Brothers, 1980),1 and paid $350,000 to have one of their new brands, Lark, smoked and the box used as a secret weapon inJames Bond: License to Kill (MGM Studios, 1989).2

And even though the tobacco industry was banned in 1998 from paying to have cigarettes shown in movies,smoking in movies has increased. In fact, just two years after the ban, smoking in youth-rated films increased by 50 percent.3

An R rating for movies with smoking will:3

  • Cut kids’ exposure to smoking in movies by at least half.
  • Prevent almost 200,000 adolescents from starting to smoke every year.
  • Prevent over 50,000 tobacco deaths a year in coming decades.

In 2002, 68.5 percent of youth-rated movies (G, PG, PG-13) had smoking, and 83 percent of R-rated movies showed smoking. A study published in 2003 by Dartmouth Medical School found that over 52 percent of teens who start smoking attribute it to seeing smoking in movies.4

“Film is better than any commercial that has been run on television or in any magazine, because the audience is totally unaware of any sponsor involvement.” -Hollywood Public Relations Firm, 19725

In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, after reviewing the scientific evidence, recommended that anti-tobacco ads be run before movies with smoking. Its conclusion: “The increased risk for smoking initiation as a result of exposure to smoking in the movies can be reduced by anti-smoking ads.”6

In 2008, the California Department of Public Health partnered with six major movie studios to place California’s anti-smoking television commercials on millions of DVDs of movies rated G, PG or PG-13 that show tobacco use. Since the agreement was made, the ads have been placed on DVDs of more than 80 movies, with over 115 million copies sold.

  • References

    1. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Letter: Superman II - The Movie. Written by Spengler, P., Philip Morris. October 18, 1979
    2. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Letter: Explanation of Agreement to Congressman Thomas Luken. Written by Wilson, M., producer of James Bond: License to Kill. July 19,1989.
    3. Smoke-Free Movies, UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
    4. Dalton, M., et al. "Effect of Viewing Smoking in Movies on Adolescent Smoking Initiation: a Cohort Study." The Lancet, 2003.
    5. Smoke-Free Movies, UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
    6. Institute of Medicine. 2007. Ending the Tobacco Problem: A Blueprint for the Nation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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