Smoking In Movies Is Increasing, In Contrast To Real Smoking Rates

March 03, 1998

The incidence of smoking in top-grossing movies has increased during the 1990s, and dramatically exceeds real smoking rates, according to a new study led by a prominent tobacco researcher from the University of California San Francisco.

After declining over three decades, smoking in movies has returned to levels comparable to those observed in the 1960s before the issuance of the first Surgeon General's report on smoking and health in 1964, according to Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, a professor of medicine at UCSF with the Institute for Health Policy Studies and the Division of Cardiology.

The report by Glantz and Theresa F. Stockwell, who conducted the research as part of a master's degree project, appears in the new issue of Tobacco Control, a scientific journal published by the British Medical Association.

The presentation of smoking in films remains pro-tobacco, according to Stockwell and Glantz, with only 14 percent of tobacco screen-time presenting adverse social or health effects of tobacco use.

The researchers found that in movies from the 1960s, tobacco was used about once for every five minutes of film time. In films from the 1970s and 1980s, tobacco was used about once every 10 to 15 minutes, but in movies from the 1990s, tobacco was used an average of every three to five minutes, according to the researchers.

"The use of tobacco in films is increasing and is reinforcing misleading images that present smoking as a widespread and socially desirable activity," according to Glantz and Stockwell. "These portrayals may encourage teenagers--the major movie audience--to smoke.

"Films continue to present the smoker as one who is typically white, male, middle class, successful and attractive, a movie hero who takes smoking for granted," the researchers report. "As in tobacco advertising, tobacco use in the movies is associated with youthful vigor, good health, good looks, and personal and professional acceptance.

"Portrayals of tobacco use, whether in a positive or negative context, lead to changes in attitudes that predispose children to smoking. In an era in which the tobacco industry is finding traditional advertising media increasingly restricted, the appearance of tobacco use in motion pictures is an important mechanism to promote and reinforce tobacco use, particularly among young people," they report.

To conduct the study, Glantz and Stockwell randomly selected for analysis five films from among the 20 leading money-makers for each year from 1990 to 1996. In the movies sampled, 57 percent of leading characters smoked, compared to just 14 percent of similar people in the general population. In the films from 1991 through 1996, 80 percent of the male leads smoked.

In an earlier study Glantz analyzed two films from among the 20 most popular films every year for the years 1960 through 1990. After comparing the two studies the researchers concluded that the socioeconomic status of smokers in movies has increased dramatically during the 1990s compared to earlier decades, despite the fact that smoking in real life is more common among lower social classes.

Among characters who smoked, 55 percent were from a lower socioeconomic class in the randomly selected movies from the 1960s, compared to 54 percent in the 1970s, 58 percent in the 1980s, and just 21 percent in the 1990s. The percentage of movie smokers who were middle class was 19 percent in 1960s movies, 25 percent in 1970s movies, 25 percent in 1980s movies, but jumped to 49 percent in 1990s movies. The percentage of upper class smokers in the sampled movies was 26 percent in the 1960s, 21 percent in the 1970s, 17 percent in the 1980s, and rose to 30 percent in the 1990s.

The reason for the increasing incidence of smoking in films is not clear, Glantz says.

During the 1980s, the tobacco industry was paying substantial fees for product placement, Glantz and Stockwell point out, but the Tobacco Institute claims that payment for specific brand placement in films has ended. Glantz and Stockwell found that brand identification decreased during the 1990s.

Glantz and Stockwell argue that strong anti-tobacco advertisements should be aired by movie theaters prior to the screening of any film that portrays smoking, and that movie producers should require everyone connected to the making of a film to certify that they are not receiving money or gifts for the use of tobacco in films.

University of California - San Francisco

Related Smoking Articles from Brightsurf:

Smoking rates falling in adults, but stroke survivors' smoking rates remain steady
While the rate of Americans who smoke tobacco has fallen steadily over the last two decades, the rate of stroke survivors who smoke has not changed significantly.

What is your risk from smoking? Your network knows!
A new study from researchers at Penn's Annenberg School for Communication found that most people, smokers and non-smokers alike, were nowhere near accurate in their answers to questions about smoking's health effects.

Want to quit smoking? Partner up
Kicking the habit works best in pairs. That's the main message of a study presented today at EuroPrevent 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Smoking and mortality in Asia
In this analysis of data from 20 studies conducted in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and India with more than 1 million participants, deaths associated with smoking continued to increase among men in Asia grouped by the years in which they were born.

Predictors of successfully quitting smoking among smokers registered at the quit smoking clinic at a public hospital in northeastern Malaysia
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health, Nur Izzati Mohammad et al. consider how cigarette smoking is one of the risk factors leading to noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular and respiratory system diseases and cancer.

Restaurant and bar smoking bans do reduce smoking, especially among the highly educated
Smoking risk drops significantly in college graduates when they live near areas that have completely banned smoking in bars and restaurants, according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

How the UK smoking ban increased wellbeing
Married women with children reported the largest increase in well-being following the smoking bans in the UK in 2006 and 2007 but there was no comparable increase for married men with children.

Smoking study personalizes treatment
A simple blood test is allowing Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) researchers to determine which patients should be prescribed varenicline (Chantix) to stop smoking and which patients could do just as well, and avoid side effects, by using a nicotine patch.

A biophysical smoking gun
While much about Alzheimer's disease remains a mystery, scientists do know that part of the disease's progression involves a normal protein called tau, aggregating to form ropelike inclusions within brain cells that eventually strangle the neurons.

A case where smoking helped
A mutation in the hemoglobin of a young woman in Germany was found to cause her mild anemia.

Read More: Smoking News and Smoking Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to