November 1, 2019

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Tobacco Use in Top-Grossing Movies — United States, 2010–2018

Yesterday, working with collagues at CDC and Breath California Sacramento, we published "Tobacco Use in Top-Grossing Movies — United States, 2010–2018," in the CRC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, continuing the CDC's parctice of monitoring the presence of smoking in movies, a major stimulus for youth tobacco use.  (Other articles in the same issue were on diabetes, opiod overdoses, dracunculiasis, and the outbreak of serious lung disease among e-cigarette users.)  Like much in public health, it is a good news-bad news story.  The good news is that pressure from the Smokefree Movies campaign, its public health partners, state attorneys general and investors have cut tobacco use (mostly smoking) almost 95% in the youth rated fictional films.  The bad news is that the media companies have turned the exception for smoking by real people who actually smoked (i.e., Winston Churchill) in the recommended R rating for films with tobacco into a huge loophole to load biographical dramas with smoking to the point that over progress stopped.

This means we need to redouble our efforts to finish the job of getting tobacco out of movies -- and all media -- accessible to youth.

Here is the summary from the MMWR:

What is already known about this topic?

The Surgeon General has concluded that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in movies and the initiation of smoking among young persons.

What is added by this report?

From 2010 to 2018, tobacco incidents in top-grossing movies increased 57%, including a 120% increase in those rated PG-13. In 2018, biographical dramas accounted for most tobacco incidents, including 82% of those in PG-13 movies; 73% of characters who used tobacco in these biographical dramas were fictional.

What are the implications for public health practice?

Continued efforts are needed to reduce tobacco incidents in movies, particularly in PG-13–rated biographical dramas. Giving movies with tobacco incidents an R rating would eliminate tobacco product imagery from youth-rated films.

The  citation is Tynan MA, Polansky JR, Driscoll D, Garcia C, Glantz SA. Tobacco Use in Top-Grossing Movies — United States, 2010–2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:974–978. DOI: icon.


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