Hollywood Is Showcasing Tobacco at Shocking Rate


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As long as there have been movies, characters have smoked on the big screen, too.

But as the public became more aware of the consequences of using tobacco, attitudes changed and usage of tobacco products in films dwindled.

Until recently.

The amount of U.S. movies showing tobacco use jumped 80% in 2016 compared to films in 2015, according to a new CDC report from the Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! project, which has tracked tobacco usage in movies since 1991, CNN reports.

Nearly half of 2016’s top-grossing movies showed people using tobacco, which could boost youth smoking rates among youth, particularly Latinos.

Lights, Camera, Smoke?

The new report examined top-grossing films from 1991 to 2016 on their use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookahs, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes.

From 2005-2010, a steady declined occurred in tobacco use shown in movies.

It fluctuated the following six years until reaching a startling peak in 2016: 3,145 tobacco incidents in 143 movies.

“To me, this shows that the studios are capable of reducing the amount of smoking in films,” Stanton Glantz, a tobacco control professor at the University of California, San Francisco, told CNN. “They went whole years without showing smoking in youth-rated movies, but they’ve stopped doing it.”

Does this portrayal of tobacco usage actually make an impact on the viewers?

Yes, according to Michael Tynan, lead author of the report and a public health analyst at the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.

“We’ve known for a while that the more you see smoking on screen, the more likely you are to see youth smoking cigarettes in real life,” Tynan told CNN. “There’s a causal relationship between the two.”

Tobacco & Latinos

The new report has important implications for Latino kids.

Latino kids are more likely to start smoking and develop a daily habit than other kids, according to a federal study, we reported recently.

The study found that Latino kids were found to be 67% more susceptible to smoking than white kids, and also were most likely to be drawn to cigarettes around ages 12 and 16.

“This is particularly important for prevention efforts in which susceptibility can be used as a screening tool during annual clinic visits to reduce smoking initiation among at-risk youth,” said Sherine El-Toukhy of NIMHD, who led the study.

The amount of smoking susceptibility rose from 21% to 23% over the study period and varied by race/ethnicity:

  • For Latino kids, it rose from 22% to 28%.
  • For white kids, it held steady at about 21%.
  • For black kids, it dropped from 21% to 17% in 2003, but rose back to 20% in 2014.

“There’s so many iconic images of cool associated with smoking that it’s a hard habit for actors and filmmakers to break,” Craig Detweiler, film historian and communications professor at Pepperdine University, told CNN.

How to improve this trend

A report by the U.S. Surgeon General in 2012 directly linked watching smoking in movies and youths starting to smoke.

tobacco in movies graphicAs a response, the Motion Picture Association of America was allowed to give an R rating to any movie with tobacco usage.

“The MPAA needs to modernize the rating system to reflect the conclusive science that putting smoking on a screen increases the chances of youth smoking and then dying prematurely as a result,” Glantz said.

When it comes to quitting smoking, it is best to do so “cold turkey” and with a support system.

A study by Oxford University “randomly assigned almost 700 adult smokers to either an abrupt quitting or gradual reduction group. Each person set a ‘quit day’ of two weeks after they entered the study, and saw a research nurse once a week until then.”

For those looking to quit, there are innovative technology based programs, such as Quitxt.

There are also bilingual booklets and websites, telephone hotlines, and even podcasts.

And be careful what you see on the big screen.

“I think the challenge is for studio and filmmakers to put ethics ahead of aesthetics,” Detweiler said.

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