Based on 2008 film data, US states allocate an estimated $830 million to subsidize production of films with tobacco imagery. For comparison, this surpasses the $719 million that states state appropriated in 2009 programs to avert teen smoking initiation. Of the $830 million, $500 million subsidizes youth‐rated (PG and PG‐13) films with smoking. In 2008, youth‐rated films shot in the US delivered about half of all the tobacco impressions encountered by US theater audiences. Another
$330 million subsidizes US production of R‐rated films with smoking.
An estimated 1.3 million current adolescent smokers were recruited to smoke by their exposure to tobacco imagery on screen; about 400,000 of these smokers will ultimately die from tobacco‐induced diseases. Public subsidies for youth‐rated films with smoking are in direct conflict with public policies funded to prevent teens from starting to smoke.
States already place strict requirements on film productions to qualify for public subsidy. To these should be added straightforward eligibility requirements to ensure:
1. Film projects rated G, PG and PG‐13 with smoking do not qualify for public incentives except if the presentation accurately reflects the dangers and consequences of tobacco use or is necessary to represent the smoking of an actual historical figure, as in a biographical film or documentary;
2 Publicly subsidized film projects are not also influenced by the tobacco industry;
3 These programs transparently report the projects granted eligibility, their tobacco status, their progress and the public benefits awarded to each project.
Currently, two public policies are in conflict. There is a national consensus that smoking should not be promoted to youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly cited movie smoking as a major factor in youth smoking rates23 and has made countering media portrayals of smoking a strategic priority. The U.S. Institute of Medicine25 and National Cancer Institute26 have each spotlighted the harm done by movie smoking.
Major national health groups endorse an R‐rating policy to eliminate smoking in future youth‐rated films and the other evidence‐based measures, as have the New York State Department of Health and Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. Internationally, the World Health Organization supports adultrating future smoking scenes, showing anti‐smoking spots before films with smoking, certifying no payoffs in the film production chain, and ending tobacco brand display on screen.
Meanwhile, other branches of state government are subsidizing youth‐rated movies with smoking with hundreds of millions of scarce taxpayer dollars. Whatever the calculated economic cost‐benefits of competing for film production jobs, no analysis of costs or benefits from film subsidies has considered the national and global health cost of underwriting Hollywood films proven to recruit adolescents to smoke. The modest policy recommendations made here will restructure the incentives for US film producers and studios and reward them to keep smoking out of the movies that kids see most.