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Open Access Publications from the University of California

American Legacy Foundation, First Look Report 18. Character Smoking in Top Box Office Movies


A strong body of evidence now links exposure to smoking in movies with adolescent smoking, identifying it as a key risk factor. Given this link, it is important to examine the way movies portray smoking and to monitor how often smoking occurs in movies over time. With support from the National Cancer Institute and the American Legacy Foundation, researchers at Dartmouth Medical School have conducted an extensive content analysis of 1000 movies, the top 100 box office hits each year from 1996-2005. This Legacy First Look Report examines how smokers are portrayed in these movies and describes trends in movie smoking, by movie and by movie character.


Our data about movie character smoking show: The portrayal of smokers is often unrealistic, with affluent male characters accounting for a much larger proportion of the tobacco users in movies than in the U.S.;

Smokers in movies are rarely portrayed as having a motive for smoking, and smoking status tends not to differentiate types of characters;

Tobacco use in movies is not related to box office success.

Our data on movie trends in the top 100 box office hits from 1996-2005 show:

Although the percent of movies with tobacco imagery has declined, the majority of movies continued to depict tobacco use or imagery, with 56% of youth rated movies in 2005 containing smoking. Smoking delivered by youth rated movies as an aggregate increased by 12%, from 238 episodes in 2004 to 267 in 2005.

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