SOURCE: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

August 19, 2010 17:39 ET

Federal Government Supports R-Rating for Movies With Smoking

New Report Shows Youth-Rated Movies Continue to Deliver Billions of Tobacco Impressions Annually Despite Overall Decline in Film Smoking

LOS ANGELES, CA--(Marketwire - August 19, 2010) -  Today the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases the Vol. 59 / No. 32 of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report focusing on the amount of smoking in major motion pictures during the past 18 years. According to the report, while 2009 was the first year that a majority of all films were smoke-free, theater audiences were still exposed to 17 billion smoking impressions in that year alone.

The report, titled "Smoking in Top-Grossing Movies -- United States, 1991-2009," reports a content analysis of the 50 top grossing films each year from 1991-2001 and the top 10 grossing movies each week in 2002-2009 conducted by the University of California San Francisco and Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails. Tobacco incidents and other characteristics, such as tobacco brand display, were monitored.

Key findings include:

  • In 2009, more than half (54 percent) of PG-13 films still featured tobacco imagery.
  • Total tobacco impressions varied between 30 and 60 billion/year from 1991-2001 then started a general decline, reaching a low of about 17 billion in 2009 (half of what it was in 2002).
  • Total tobacco incidents in all films fell by half in the last four years, yet incidents in 2009 (1,935) films still exceed those in 1998 (1,600).
  • Tobacco brand display continues in both R-rated and PG-13 films.

"The CDC's report reminds us that, while we have made progress over the past four years, smoking in movies continues to be a significant problem with a negative influence on our youth," said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Los Angeles County Public Health Director and County Health Officer. "In fact, research shows more than 1.1 million current smokers aged 12-17 in the United States were heavily influenced by movie tobacco imagery, of whom 360,000 will eventually die from tobacco-induced diseases."

According to the report, an R rating would not only substantially reduce the likelihood that an adolescent would see a film with smoking, but would also create an economic incentive for producers to leave smoking out for films that are marketed to youth, thereby reducing the amount of onscreen smoking delivered to youth and the associated smoking.

Smoking in films has been a major public health priority for organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, Legacy for Health, the World Health Organization and the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. The groups are urging film studios to endorse four Smoke-Free Movie goals:

  1. Rating R any movie with smoking, with the exception of movies that depict the health consequences of smoking or actual historic figures who actually smoked;
  2. Inserting strong anti-smoking public service announcements (PSAs) before movies with smoking in all distribution and exhibition channels;
  3. Requiring producers to certify that no consideration of any kind was received for tobacco depictions in film; and
  4. Ending the depiction of tobacco brands on screen.

The CDC also called attention to the fact that states are now spending more money subsidizing films with smoking than they are on their state tobacco programs and noted that, "States could harmonize their film subsidy programs with public health goals by making films with tobacco imagery ineligible for public subsidy."

For more than 10 years, the national Smoke-Free Movies campaign has been pushing the entertainment industry to endorse their four Smoke-Free Movies policy solutions. "The unprecedented four-year decline in on-screen smoking shows it is entirely feasible for the entertainment industry to adopt industry-wide policies to get tobacco imagery out of the movies that kids see most. R-rating future movies with smoking will give producers a permanent incentive to keep G, PG and PG-13 films smoke-free and reduce tobacco recruitment through this decades-old promotional channel by at least half," said Stanton Glantz, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and contributing author of the report. Glantz also directs the national Smoke-Free Movies campaign.

"With the federal government's preventive health experts now endorsing industry-wide action, we expect the U.S. film industry to swiftly adopt these four policies to lock tobacco industry influence out of films and protect the lives of their most valuable audience -- millions of American teens," Dr. Fielding said.

The Department of Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control, and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 4,000 employees and an annual budget exceeding $750 million. To learn more about Public Health and the work we do, please visit http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov.