NPR logo Teens Exposed To Much Less Hollywood Smoke: Research

Teens Exposed To Much Less Hollywood Smoke: Research

A scene from the movie "Twilight" with plenty of fog but no tobacco smoke.   Peter Sorel/Summit Entertainment hide caption

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Peter Sorel/Summit Entertainment

Top-grossing Hollywood films made for teenage audiences showed a significant decline in on-screen smoking between 2005 and 2009 which should correlate with fewer young people being seduced by their favorite movie stars into trying tobacco, according to a new report by public-health researchers.

In a study published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers said incidents of on-screen smoking were 49 percent lower in 2009 than 2005.

The researchers examined popular movies from 1991 and 2009 and found the use of tobacco by on-screen characters peaked in 2005. That's seems surprising given the greater social stigma of smoking in 2005 than ten years earlier.

Excerpts from the report:

Top-grossing movies released in 2009 contained 49% of the number of onscreen smoking incidents as observed in 2005 (1,935 incidents in 2009 versus 3,967 incidents in 2005). Further reduction of tobacco use depicted in popular movies could lead to less initiation of smoking among adolescents. Effective methods to reduce the potential harmful influence of onscreen tobacco use should be implemented.


The total number of incidents in the entire sample of top-grossing U.S. movies (Figure 1) ranged from 2,106 to 3,386 per year from 1991 to 1997, decreased to 1,612 in 1998, and then more than doubled to peak at 3,967 in 2005. From 2005 to 2009, the number of incidents dropped steadily, to 1,935 incidents in 2009. More than 99% of tobacco incidents related to smoking (versus smokeless tobacco use).

During 1991—2001, total in-theater impressions varied between 30 billion and 60 billion per year, then generally declined to a low of approximately 17 billion impressions in 2009 (Figure 2). The percentage of all top-grossing movies that did not show tobacco use exceeded 50% (51%; 74/145) for the first time in 2009 (Figure 3); similarly, the percentage of top-grossing, youth-rated movies (G/PG/PG-13) that did not show tobacco use generally has increased since 2003, reaching an all-time high of 61% (58/95) in 2009. Nonetheless, in 2009, more than half (54%; 32/59) of PG-13 movies contained incidents of tobacco use, down from 65% (133/205) during 2006—2008 and 80% (107/133) during 2002—2003.

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