Smoking in movies rated G, PG and PG-13 plummeted 71.6 percent between 2005 and 2010, from 2,093 incidents in 2005 to 595 last year. In films rated G or PG, incidents of tobacco use declined 93.6 percent, from 472 to 30.
In 2010, 54.7 percent of the 137 highest-grossing movies showed no tobacco use, compared with 33.3 percent in 2005. And in those 137 films, tobacco use declined 56 percent between 2005 and 2010.
The results were praised by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics; both called on the Motion Picture Association of America to give R ratings to films featuring smoking. Since 2007, the MPAA has taken smoking into consideration when rating films as one of several factors, which also include sexuality, language and violence, says MPAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Kaltman.
“This is an extremely big deal,” says study author Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at University of California-San Francsico. The report was released in the CDCâ€™s weekly report.
Three of the MPAAâ€™s six member studios have policies regarding smoking in films, according to the CDCâ€™S analysis. Although the report does not identify studios by name, Glantz named them in an interview.
Time Warner (Warner Bros.), Comcast (Universal) and Disney each have policies on smoking in films, he says. Among those studios, the use of tobacco in youth-related films declined 95.8 percent between 2005 and 2010. The policies were adopted between 2004 and 2007.
For the three studios with no policies, Viacom (Paramount), News Corp. ( 20th Century Fox) and Sony Pictures, the decline was 41.7 percent.
The policies for Universal, Warner Bros. and Disney vary, but all say they seek to clamp down on smoking in youth-related films, according to copies of the policy posted online.
Universal “as a baseline” presumes no smoking incident should occur in youth-related films, while a statement by TimeWarner (owner of Warner Bros.) “strongly discourages” depictions of smoking in films targeted at young people. Disney says it will not depict smoking in films that use the Disney brand except in “limited circumstances.”
The MPAA has not lobbied member studios to adopt smoking policies, Kaltman says. “We donâ€™t get involved in business decisions of individual studios.”
Smoking in films began to drop sharply in 2005, Glantz says. He adds a “huge” amount of pressure was put on studios by activists and state attorneys-general.
“I think we have educated the top management at some of these companies that thereâ€™s a real problem and they need to deal with it,” Glantz says.
Even though anti-smoking efforts in movies have been focused on youth-targeted films, smoking also has declined in R-rated films, Glantz says, noting incidents of tobacco use in R-rated films fell 40.5 percent between 2005 and 2010. Glantz says some children and teens see R-rated films, and that fact has entered the “consciousness” of studio companies.
The World Health Organization and other organizations have recommended films containing tobacco use be rated R. Ursula Bauer, director of the CDCâ€™s National Health Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, says films can receive an R rating for just a couple of uses of a certain swear word.
Kaltman says the purpose of the rating system is to provide information on movie content so parents can decide what they want their children to see.
Adolescents with the highest exposure to on-screen smoking are twice as likely to begin smoking as those with the least exposure, Bauer says.
Glantz adds cutting smoking out of youth-targeted films has helped bring down rates of youth smoking and that an R rating for films with smoking would only help.
“This would have a huge health benefit, while costing nothing,” Glantz says.
Kaltman says nearly 75 percent of all pictures with depictions of smoking are already rated R.
By JONATHAN SHORMAN