CDC: Kids' films could have been smokefree by 2015

Hollywood studios made progress against on-screen smoking before 2010 but then stalled, the CDC reports in its journal of public health threats, MMWR (6 July 2017). "Had the trend established from 2005 to 2010 continued, all youth-rated films would have been smokefree by 2015," the CDC observes.         

Chris Pratt in The Magnificent Seven (PG-13, Sony, 2016)

Progress? | 2016's The Magnificent Seven (Sony, PG-13) featured twice as much smoking as the 1960 version and gave moviegoers triple the tobacco exposure.

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Nearly half (46 percent) of top-grossing films with smoking were youth-rated between 2010 and 2016. In PG-13 rated movies, incidents of smoking surged 43 percent from 2010 to 2016.

This is of "particular public health concern," the CDC remarks, because of the "established causal relationship between youths' exposure to smoking in movies and smoking initiation."
 
“Modernizing Hollywood’s rating system to protect the audience by awarding movies with smoking an R rating would save a million kids’ lives,” said senior author Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, a UCSF professor of medicine and director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “That is the best way that the six big media companies that control the Motion Picture Association of America could ensure that movies marketed to kids are not also selling cigarettes.”
 
The U.S. Surgeon General—based on years of published scientific data— concluded in 2012 that depictions of smoking in the movies cause young people to start smoking. The 2012 report also noted that youth who are heavily exposed to images onscreen of smoking are two to three times as likely to begin smoking as youth who receive little exposure.   
 
UCSF and the CDC collaborated with in this study to assess the extent of smoking images in youth-rated movies. Findings were compared with data from reports dating to 1991, when Breathe California began systematically collecting data. The researchers found that from 2010 to 2016: 

  • Total tobacco incidents in top-grossing films increased 72 percent (1,824 to 3,145);
  • Incidents in G or PG movies declined 87 percent (30 to 4);
  • Incidents in PG-13 movies increased 43 percent (564 to 809);
  • Incidents in R-rated movies increased 90 percent (1,230 to 2,332);

Movies from major media companies, whose Hollywood studios govern the movie ratings, accounted for 71 percent of more than 6,000 youth-rated smoking incidents from 2010 to 2016.

Sony (17 percent), Fox (15 percent) and Time Warner (13 percent) featured the largest shares of incidents. Disney (7 percent) had the smallest share, followed by Viacom’s Paramount (9 percent). Comcast’s Universal had 13 times more smoking incidents in its 2016 PG-13 films than in 2010 (266 vs. 19). Lower-budget independent film companies accounted for 29 percent of youth-rated smoking incidents over this time period.
 
In addition to highlighting the need for an R rating for smoking, which would reduce teen smoking rates by 18 percent, the report suggested that state and local health departments work to ensure that public subsidies do not go to studios, distributors and producers that depict tobacco use on screen. From 2010 to 2016, more than two dozen states awarded some $3.5 billion in public subsidies, such as tax credits, to productions of movies with tobacco incidents. 
 
“Since 2010, there has been no progress in reducing the total number of tobacco incidents in youth-rated movies,” said Glantz, who founded Smokefree Movies in 2001. “There is an enormous need to implement an industrywide standard by requiring that all movies rated for kids are smoke-free.”
 
Co-authors of the report are Michael A. Tynan, a public health analyst at the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Jono Polansky, a consultant to UCSF; and Kori Titus and Renata Atayeva, who were both with Breathe California. 

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This blog includes material from UCSF's media release. Link to the MMWR report here. For movie stills, film lists and other resources from UCSF Smokefree Movies, go to http://bit.ly/sfm-background.