Smokin' Movies

When was the last time you went to see a movie and one of the stars pulled out a cigarette on screen?

When you stop and think about it, lighting up on screen is like showing a celebrity endorsement the size of a billboard. And it works. According to Stanton Glantz of  Smoke Free Movies, non-smoking teens whose favourite stars smoke frequently on screen are 16 times more likely to develop positive attitudes toward smoking.

Why movies are even better than TV advertising

Smokin' Movies

Smoking in movies is much more effective than TV ads -- any kind of paid advertising, really -- because viewers are not aware that there may be a sponsor. And movies live on and on through repeated showings on home video and on television.

Most tobacco advertising on TV ceased in the early 1970s. In the US, tobacco companies started looking for other ways to advertise including paying to place their brands in Hollywood movies. Unlike commercial breaks on TV, these situations occur at a time when your attention is sharply focussed on the plot and your mental guard against advertising exaggerations and misrepresentations is down. You have no reason to believe that there is an underlying motive to sell cigarettes.

One big star was paid $500,000 to smoke a certain brand of cigarettes in three of his action films. In 1989, the movie industry payola scandal was exposed and tobacco companies "volunteered" to stop it. (Payola is bribary of any influential person in exchange for the promotion of a product or service.) But more than a decade later smoking in movies is more prominent than even before the ban.

Smokin' Movies
A youth-led American Lung Association study found that in 1997/98, 88% of the top 50 box office movies contained tobacco use, and in 74% of them, it was the lead actors who were smoking.
Smoke Free Movies also contends that of America's 25 top-grossing movies in 2000, nine in ten dramatize use of tobacco... more than one in four show a particular brand... actors now display or smoke these featured brands ten times more than before the 1989 payola ban.
The World Health Organization points out that "No warning label is required when actors or actresses light up. What the young person sees [is a star with an enviable lifestyle]... using tobacco." That means many young people see smoking as a "highly desirable activity", because movies don't show the realities: addiction, disease and death.

In Titanic (which received a PG-13, rating in the U.S.), Leonardo DiCaprio and co-star Kate Winslet both light up, equating cigarettes with romance and rebellion for perhaps 100 million viewers around the world. This kind of celebrity endorsement is virtually priceless. And it will live on for years with repeated showings on home video and television.

smokefreemovies ad

 Ads like this are running regularly in the New York Times and the trade paper Variety.

Think about it

Instead of simply "reflecting reality," Hollywood clearly exaggerates the number and status of smokers on-screen. It's the rich, the powerful, the cool and the glamorous who smoke in movies. But in real life, smoker demographics are quite different.

Tobacco companies need the movies to repeatedly grab young viewers in theatres, on home video and by satellite worldwide. The industry knows that its own future depends on smoking being socially acceptable. So imagine what top-tier stars like Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are worth when they smoke on screen. It's as if they personally endorse smoking.

Need more?

The information in this piece comes from a number of sources, including:

  • The World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative
    A project that focusses international attention, resources and actionon the "global tobacco pandemic."
  • SmokeFree Movies
    An initiative to encourage Hollywood to stop promoting tobacco usein the movies led by Stanton Glantz, PhD (co-author of The CigarettePapers and Tobacco War) of the UCSF School of Medicine.

Please note: The information and opinions on these linked sites are not necessarily endorsed by Health Canada.

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