Smoking on screen sharply declines

Far fewer top-grossing US films aimed at young audiences are featuring smoking scenes, a possible factor in the decline in cigarette use among middle and high school students, health officials said.

Tobacco use appeared on-screen 595 times in 2010 in top movies rated G, PG or PG-13, a 71.6% drop from 2005, according to a new survey by a non-profit group, Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails.

The survey was reported in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report".

The drop in on-screen tobacco use largely can be attributed to policies by three major film studios, Time Warner, Disney and Comcast, which discourage smoking in their films, said Dr Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who contributed to the CDC article.

Tobacco use in youth-rated movies by those three companies dropped 95.8% from 2005 to 2010, compared to 41.7% among companies without such policies, the CDC said.

"What this shows is that those policies have been working," Dr Glantz said.

The CDC article concluded that the decreased presence of on-screen smoking might have contributed to a decline in smoking by young people in real life.

From 2000 to 2009, tobacco use among middle school students declined from 15.1% to 8.2% and among high school students from 34.5% to 23.9%, the CDC reported.

In 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America announced that scenes glamorizing smoking could affect a movie's rating.

The World Health Organization and other groups have recommended an automatic R rating for movies featuring tobacco use, unless the film portrays an historical figure who smoked or depicts the harm of smoking, according to the CDC.

"Adoption of this policy could further reduce tobacco incidents in youth-rated movies," the CDC report said.

It also recommended showing anti-smoking advertisements before movies that feature tobacco use.

The CDC suggested state governments, which provide $1 billion (about R7 billion) annually in tax breaks to movie producers, could coordinate their anti-smoking efforts with programs designed to attract film productions.

The 15 US states with the top-grossing movies that featured tobacco in 2010 spent more on tax subsidies for the film productions than they did on anti-tobacco programs, the CDC said.

States could also consider limiting tax subsidies to tobacco-free films only, the CDC said.

Ken Garcia, a spokesman for Altria Group Inc., the parent company of the largest US cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris USA, said the company opposes the use of tobacco by young people and the depiction of tobacco use in films for young people.

"We support programs that help reduce underage tobacco use," he said. "Kids should not use any tobacco products." 

(Reuters Health, David Beasley, July 2011) 

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