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Hollywood still struggling to quit smoking in youth films

Nearly half of the top-grossing, PG-13 films released in 2015 featured tobacco imagery, and independent studios are responsible for a greater share of smoking in youth-rated films, according to research from the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

The share of youth-rated films that feature tobacco imagery is down by 25 percent since 2002, and overall tobacco impressions in youth-rated films decreased by 75 percent from 2014-2015 to 2.8 billion.

While major studios have released fewer youth-rated films that feature tobacco use, the number of films released by independent studios and featuring tobacco has remained stable. Independent studios now account for 39 percent of youth-rated films that feature smoking, up from 23 percent in 2002. 

tobacco in youth-rated movies
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

While the MPAA-affiliated studios have corporate policies on tobacco depictions in youth-rated films, the report highlights their insufficiency at exposing youth to tobacco imagery. The researchers concluded that updating the current rating system to make certain that movies that feature smoking receive an R-rating is the only way to protect young film goers.

Truth Initiative CEO and President Robin Koval addressed the problem of smoking in movies during a recent interview with NBC4 in Southern California.

“We think for any movies that do have smoking in them, on DVDs as well, that there should be an anti-tobacco message that’s shown before the film,” she said. “We should not allow movies to be advertising vehicles for big tobacco."

Key takeaways


39 percent of youth-rated films with smoking were released by independent film companies in 2015


Only 11 percent of youth-rated films that contained smoking included smoking descriptors in their MPAA ratings


In 4 years, parents and children spent $7.8 billion to see youth-rated movies with smoking in U.S. theaters


Teen smoking rates would drop by 18 percent if smoking were eliminated from youth-rated films, according to the U.S. Surgeon General