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Smoking in movies under fire

News, 12 July 2017
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ATLANTA: There has been a sharp increase in the number of "tobacco incidents" in top-grossing movies over the past six years, according to a new study which calls for films depicting smoking to be re-rated to protect younger viewers.

Using data gathered by Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! (TUTD), a project of non-profit Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that the steady decline seen in the number of tobacco incidents in youth-rated movies between 2005 and 2010 had been reversed.

The total number of individual occurrences of tobacco use in a movie ("tobacco incidents") in top-grossing movies increased 72%, from 1,824 in 2010 to 3,145 in 2016, with an increase of 43% (from 564 to 809) occurring among PG-13 rated movies, it found.

The total number of incidents in G or PG movies, meanwhile, had decreased by 87% (from 30 to 4).

Overall, there were actually fewer of these movies depicting tobacco use in 2016 compared with 2010 – in 2016, 41% of movies among the ten top-grossing movies in any calendar week included tobacco use, compared with 45% in 2010 – indicating that tobacco incidents are becoming concentrated in a smaller number of films.

Since the Surgeon General has previously concluded that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young persons, the CDC suggested that an R rating for movies with tobacco use could potentially reduce the number of teen smokers by 18% and prevent their premature deaths from tobacco-related diseases.

Other suggestions included requiring film studios to certify that neither they nor their producers received any payments to show tobacco use on screen, and asking state agencies to ensure that no subsidies are given to films that include depictions of tobacco use.

Separate recent research by the University of California San Diego and Moores Cancer Center reported that 41% of 12-13 year olds who had never used tobacco products expressed either interest or familiarity with a series of tobacco-related advertisements – receptivity that was correlated with a higher susceptibility for future cigarette smoking.

Data sourced from CDC, Healio; additional content by WARC staff

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