Smoking in top-grossing US movies: 2013

June 12, 2014

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Jono Polansky, Kori Titus, Natalie Lanning and I just released our report "Smoking in top-grossing US movies: 2013."
The full report is available at
• Exposure to on-screen smoking will recruit 6.4 million smokers from among today’s children. Two million of those recruited to smoke by films will die prematurely from tobacco-induced diseases.
• The percentage of youth-rated films with smoking continued a steady decline, with 62 percent of PG-13 films smokefree in 2013 compared to 20 percent in 2002.
• At the same time, tobacco incidents per PG-13 film with smoking are on the rise. In 2012, for the first time, incidents per PG-13 film with smoking were as high as in R-rated films. Incidents climbed 37 percent from 2010 to 2013. The share of PG-13 films with >50 tobacco incidents grew from 17 percent in 2010 to 31 percent in 2012 and 29 percent in 2013
• In 2013, PG-13 films delivered 10.4 billion in-theater tobacco impressions to audiences, 30 percent 30 below 2012 but nearly twice as high as 2010, when smoking in youth-rated films was at its lowest..
• Despite being an early adopter of a policy intended to reduce tobacco content in its youth-rated films, from 2010 to 2013 Time Warner (Warner Bros.) delivered the most youth-rated, in-theater tobacco impressions of any film company (12.2 billion, 29% of all youth-rated impressions). Comcast (Universal) films delivered the least exposure (1.3 billion, 3%).
• By 2013, all sectors of the US film industry showed they can eliminate smoking from their youth-rated films for at least one year. Comcast, Disney, and Time Warner did so in 2010; independents in 2011; Fox, Sony, and Viacom in 2013. But rebounds among the first two groups indicate that a uniform, industry-wide R-rating is needed to permanently and substantially reduce adolescent exposure.
• The period 2002 to 2013 saw a decline in tobacco brand display in top-grossing films. Brand occurrences in 2013 were higher than in any year since 2005, mainly from Altria (Marlboro) and Reynolds American (Camel, Kool, Winston). While extras comprise 45% of on-screen smokers, 99% of brands used on-screen are smoked by film stars or co-stars, a pattern similar to periods when tobacco industry influence on studios and their stars has been extensively documented.
• Since May 2007, when the MPAA claimed it has made smoking a factor in its film ratings, it has allowed 88 percent of youth-rated, top-grossing films with smoking to be released without its small-print “smoking” label. Nearly three-quarters of PG-13 films with >50 tobacco incidents each went unlabeled. The MPAA’s labeling scheme misrepresents the true risk from smoking on screen; as well, there is no evidence that labeling films with smoking can reduce adolescent exposure. In contrast, the widely endorsed R-rating for smoking is an evidence-based policy that will avert one million future tobacco deaths among US children alive today.

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