Smoking in Kids' Movies Decreased in 2010: CDC

Guy smoking a cigarette
(Image credit: Morguefile)

The amount of smoking in movies that kids watch fell again last year, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There were 595 incidents of onscreen tobacco use in the top-grossing youth-rated (G, PG, or PG-13) movies in 2010, a drop of 72 percent from the 2,093 incidents in 2005. The number of incidents in G-rated and PG-rated movies dropped 94 percent, from 472 in 2005 to 30 in 2010, the study said.

And 55 percent of all 137 top-grossing movies last year had no tobacco incidents at all, compared with 33 percent of the top-grossing movies in 2005. Among youth-rated movies, 70 percent had no incidents in 2010, compared with 45 percent in 2005.

Between 2004 and 2007, three of the six studies that are members of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the industry organization that rates films, implemented policies to reduce smoking in the movies, said study researcher Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco. In 2005, smoking in movies peaked, and since then it has been decreasing, he said.

"This shows that the policies are working," Glantz said. "Policies aren't bans, so we didn't know if they would succeed," in reducing onscreen smoking, he said.

Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros. Entertainment and Universal City Studios were the studios that had implemented policies. Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures do not have such policies, Glantz said.

"There is very, very strong scientific evidence that exposure to smoking in movies stimulates youth smoking, Glantz told MyHealthNewsDaily. Between 2005 and 2010, the rate of youth smoking dropped slightly, and this decrease could largely be attributed to the drop in smoking in movies, he said.

Many state and local government anti-smoking campaigns took financial hits over the study period, Glantz said, so an increase in youth smoking would have been expected had it not been for the decrease in smoking in the movies.

"Kids smoke as a result of the balance of the pro- and anti-tobacco pressures on them," he said. The pro side, Glantz added, includes smoking in movies and marketing by tobacco companies; the anti side side includes messages about smoking control.

To attract movie producers, almost all states offer subsidies in the form of tax credits or cash rebates, the report said, totaling approximately $1 billion annually. This amounts to tax payers supporting the movie industry, Glantz said. The CDC's suggestion that youth movies that depict smoking should not be eligible for such benefits should be heeded, he said.

The study's data are based on a project called Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down (TUTD), which relies on people to count all tobacco incidents in movies among the top 10 grossing movies in any calendar week. An "incident" is defined as each time a tobacco product went off screen and then back on screen, a different actor was shown with a tobacco product, a scene changed and the new scene contain the use or implied off-screen use of a tobacco product.

Almost all incidents of onscreen tobacco use involve an actor smoking a cigarette, Glantz said.

In 2007, the MPAA also announced it would consider smoking a factor in movie ratings, stating that movies that glamorize smoking or feature pervasive smoking would receive higher ratings.

The results of the study also show that it is reasonable to give higher ratings to movies with smoking, and that movies can be successful without depicting smoking, Glantz said.

Pass it on: The number of smoking incidents in movies decreased in 2010.

This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, sister site to LiveScience. Follow MyHealthNewsDaily managing editor KarenRowan on Twitter @karenjrowan

Karen Rowan
Health Editor
Karen came to LiveScience in 2010, after writing for Discover and Popular Mechanics magazines, and working as a correspondent for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. She holds an M.S. degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University, as well as an M.S. in cellular biology from Northeastern Illinois University. Prior to becoming a journalist, Karen taught science at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in Lincolnshire, Ill. for eight years.