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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Taxpayer Subsidies for US Films with Tobacco Imagery


Forty‐one US states and several countries compete for big‐budget Hollywood film projects by offering valuable public subsidies. In 2008, states offered an estimated total of $1.3 billion to motion picture producers. On average, individual states now cover 24 percent of production costs for commercial feature films.

Because an estimated 1.1 million current adolescent smokers in the US were recruited to smoke by tobacco imagery in films about 350,000 of whom will ultimately die from tobacco‐induced diseases, this report estimates the size of recent public subsidies for youth‐rated (G/PG/PG‐13) films with tobacco imagery. It explores making tobacco imagery a determinant factor in eligibility for public film subsidies so that these awards no longer work in contradiction to public health.

A survey of the 147 films released to US theaters in 2008, each among the top ten box office earners in at least one week, finds two‐thirds of US‐developed, youth-rated film projects with tobacco imagery were filmed in the US, a rate typical of all films released by US studios over the past decade. Filmed in a dozen states now offering subsidies, these 35 movies contributed 71 percent of the 11.4 billion tobacco impressions delivered to US theater audiences by youth‐rated films in 2008.

Based on this film sample and on film industry production cost data, states awarded an estimated $830 million in public subsidies to films with tobacco, including $500 million to youth‐rated films with tobacco. For comparison, the states budgeted $719 million for all tobacco control in 2009. More than half of states subsidizing films (22/41), including New York and California, spend or earmark more money for commercial film subsidies than for anti‐tobacco programs. An estimated 62 percent ($830 million/$1.3 billion) of state film subsidies go to smoking films.

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