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Washington,U.S.A — Only months after the office of the U.S. Surgeon General warned that exposure to on-screen smoking causes young people to start smoking, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has spotlighted the U.S. movie industry’s failure to protect young audiences.
Reversing a five-year decline in movie smoking, from 2005 to 2010, four out of the six major Hollywood studios featured more smoking in their youth-rated (G, PG and PG-13) movies in 2011. Overall, tobacco incidents per youth-rated film climbed by more than one-third above 2010; in 2011, youth-rated movies delivered almost twice as many tobacco impressions to domestic theater audiences as in 2010, topping 10 billion. The three major studios with published policies addressing onscreen smoking — Disney, Universal (Comcast) and Warner Bros. (Time Warner) — saw the sharpest increases in the number of tobacco incidents per youth-rated movie.
“These data show us that individual policies that movie studios created in good faith to address this important public health problem do not stand up,” said Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, President and CEO of Legacy, a national public health organization dedicated to reducing the tobacco epidemic in the United States. “The only way to ensure a substantial and permanent reduction in young people’s exposure to on-screen smoking is for the movie industry to adopt a uniform set of policies that apply to all producers and distributors and provide structural incentives for lasting change,” Healton added.
The Legacy-funded study “Smoking in Top-Grossing US Movies in 2011″ published today in the CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease found that the number of top-grossing, youth-rated movies that were tobacco-free dropped 17 percentage points from 2010 to 2011 among companies with policies, and the number of tobacco incidents in their movies climbed from an average of 1 in 2010 to 8.5 incidents per movie in 2011.
Across the industry, youth-rated movies accounted for 68 percent of all tobacco impressions delivered to theater audiences in 2011, compared to 39 percent in 2010. The review was conducted by Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! (TUTD), a project of Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails and the University of California, San Francisco, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. (Tobacco impressions, an index of audience exposure, are estimated by multiplying the number of tobacco incidents in a film by paid admissions to the film)
“In 2011, the steady progress we had seen since 2005, led by three companies who each demonstrated that smoking in youth-rated movies could be all but eliminated, stopped and slipped backward. The stark difference in performance between those three major studios with policies and the three without all but disappeared last year,” said Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the report.
“The result of this increase in the amount of onscreen smoking will be thousands of more kids starting to smoke,” Glantz added. “That’s why only a uniform, industry-wide R rating policy for smoking will protect kids from exposure to tobacco imagery. It creates a sustainable, voluntary incentive for producers to leave smoking out of films produced to be marketed to kids.”
The problem of smoking in movies is a top public health priority, as the U.S. Surgeon General, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have emphasized the importance of reducing youth exposure to on-screen smoking.
“The industry knows what these policies are, because they have been recommended repeatedly by health agencies and organizations, civic bodies, youth groups, and, earlier this year, by more than three dozen state attorneys general: the R-rating for future smoking, certification of no tobacco payoffs, strong anti-tobacco spots before any movie with smoking, shown in any channel, and an end to tobacco brand display in movies,” Healton said.
“How many more movies will it take for Hollywood to get the big picture and stop recruiting kids for Big Tobacco?” Healton asked. “When an actor lights up, so does a child. It is time for the media companies and their movie studios to take real, lasting action on this issue.”