Hollywood movies are one of the most powerful vehicles for glamorizing and promoting smoking, especially for young people. It all started in the Golden Age, when tobacco companies began marketing cigarettes on-screen to unsuspecting moviegoers. Today, cigarette placement in movies is alive and well because it works.
In a recent study, teenagers were divided into four groups according to their exposure to on-screen smoking. Teens in the group with the highest exposure to smoking were three times more likely to try smoking and teens whose favorite stars smoke in movies were 16 times more likely to have a positive attitude toward smoking.
Big Tobacco's marketing experts and independent researchers agree. Moving stories with charismatic actors are a powerful way to attract new smokers and keep current smokers.
But it’s not just American kids who are influenced. Studies in Germany and Mexico joined numerous U.S. research that showed a causal correlation between the amount of smoking imagery in U.S. films and the likelihood of young teenagers lighting up.
For instance, Marlboros have featured in at least 74 of Hollywood's top-grossing movies over the past 15 years. Tobacco's screen time in PG-13 movies and videos has increased 50 percent since the tobacco industry agreed to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that barred marketing tobacco to youth. In 2002 alone, smoking was found in 68.5 percent of all youth-rated (G, PG, PG-13) movies. In 2005, smoking on screen reached an all time high.
“Cigarette smoking is a major contributing factor to many chronic health problems that we see in society today, including heart disease, cancer, dementia and other forms of cognitive decline and low birth weight babies,” said Dr. Ted Schettler, science director at the Science & Environmental Health Network in Ames, Iowa. “And adolescent smoking increases the risk of lifetime smoking.”
In the U.S., the average age of smoking initiation is around 12.5 years. This is an important factor to addiction because a teen brain is still developing.