Tobacco industry relying on movies for brand promotion

The tobacco industry is increasingly leaning on movies for the promotion of its business in India and several other countries following the ban on tobacco advertising, the WHO has warned.

Of late, the industry has also been denied the sponsorship of sports and music events, compelling it to shift its focus to films, the global health body observes in the report “Smokefree movies: From evidence to action”.

A survey of popular films has shown that tobacco brand displays exploded in Bollywood after its advertising was banned in the media in 2004. Of the 395 top grossers in 1990-2002, 76 per cent depicted the use of tobacco. The percentage of scenes showing lead actors or heroes using tobacco increased from 22 in 1991 to 54 in 2002. Of the 110 Hindi movies produced in 2004-2005, 89 per cent depicted tobacco use. The lead actors were shown smoking in 76 per cent of these movies.

The brand display was more or less even between premium cigarette brands belonging to the British American Tobacco, its Indian partner (the Indian Tobacco Company) and competing brands belonging to the Philip Morris International, whose entry into the Indian market coincided with the ban on tobacco advertising.

Using movies to promote smoking is a global phenomenon. In the UK, where almost all forms of tobacco advertising are prohibited, youth-rated films from the US contained 83 per cent of all tobacco visuals in 2001-2006. In Australia, a study in 2008 found that 70 per cent of the total movies showed smoking scenes, including 75 per cent of the most popular films. In Canada, a 2009 survey revealed that 75 per cent of tobacco-related shots appeared in youthrated movies.

The on-screen smoking images - branded or otherwise - are generally consistent with cigarette advertising than with the authentic representations of the dire health consequences of tobacco use, the WHO states. Such images benefit the tobacco industry and increase among the youth the initiative to smoke, the report adds.

Hamish Maxwell, the then president of Philip Morris International and later the CEO of Philip Morris Companies, had recognised this fact in 1983, the report states, quoting him as saying the important thing was to “continue to exploit new opportunities to get cigarettes on screen” in order to keep smoking socially acceptable.

WHO suggests adult rating for movies with tobacco scenes to lower the chances of their influence on the youths. An exception can be made for the movies depicting dangerous consequences of tobacco use, it adds.

Reel effect for real

  • Movies have been linked to youth smoking in India, China, Hong Kong, England, Germany, Thailand, The Netherlands, Poland, Scotland, Italy, Mexico and Iceland
  • Of the 395 top-grossing films in 1990-2002 in India, 76 per cent depicted tobacco use
  • Scenes showing lead actors/heroes using tobacco increased from 22 per cent in 1991 to 54 per cent in 2002
  • Of the 110 Hindi movies produced in 2004 and 2005, 89 per cent depicted tobacco use. Lead actors were seen smoking in 76 per cent of the movies

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