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Open Access Publications from the University of California

First-Run Smoking Presentations in U.S. Movies 1999-2006


Smoking among American adults fell by half between 1950 and 2002, yet smoking on U.S. movie screens reached historic heights in 2002, topping levels observed a half century earlier. Tobacco's comeback in movies has serious public health implications, because smoking on screen stimulates adolescents to start smoking, accounting for an estimated 52% of adolescent smoking initiation.

Equally important, researchers have observed a dose-response relationship between teens' exposure to on-screen smoking and smoking initiation: the greater teens' exposure to smoking in movies, the more likely they are to start smoking. Conversely, if their exposure to smoking in movies were reduced, proportionately fewer teens would likely start smoking.

To track smoking trends at the movies, previous analyses have studied the U.S. motion picture industry's top-grossing films with the heaviest advertising support, deepest audience penetration, and highest box office earnings. This report is unique in examining the U.S. movie industry's total output, and also in idnetifying smoking in movies, tobacco incidents, and tobacco impressions with the companies that produced and/or distributed the films - and with their parent corporations, which claim responsibility for tobacco content choices. Examining Hollywood's product line-up, before and after the public voted at the box office, sheds light on individual studios' content decisions and industry-wide production patterns amenable to policy reform.

We surveyed all U.S.-produced live action films released to theaters in the eight years between December 25, 1998, and December 24, 2006, and offer three different measures of smoking in movies:

1. INTENTION: Number of films that include smoking (and those smokefree) by year, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) age-classification, and the corporation responsible;

2. PERFORMANCE: Number of smoking incidents in these films (an index of smoking intensity) by year, MPAA age-classification, and corporation responsible;

3. IMPACT: Number of smoking impressions (each film's smoking incidents x tickets sold) delivered to theatrical audiences overall, to children aged 6-11, and to teens aged 12-17, by year, MPAA age-classification, and corporation reponsible.

Because exposure to smoking in movies accounts for about half of smoking initiation by U.S. adolescents, we pay particular attention to smoking in movies rated G/PG and PG-13 and to the effect of the proposed R-rating for tobacco use on screen.

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