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As smoking rates decline, Hollywood isn’t getting the picture

The majority of 2018 Oscar nominees in major categories — 86 percent — feature tobacco imagery on screen, which has been proven to initiate smoking among youth.

As the country has made strides in reducing tobacco use, still the leading cause of preventable disease and death, movies remain a place where it continues to be portrayed positively, as a normal social behavior and as glamorous, rebellious and edgy. According to a SmokeFree Movies analysis of the Breathe California Onscreen Tobacco Database, the major Oscar nominees this year mark an increase in instances of tobacco imagery over nominees in previous years. Over the past four years, 70 percent of Oscar-listed films featured smoking. In 2015, 60 percent of movies showed tobacco.


86% of the 2018 Oscar nominees in major categories feature tobacco imagery on screen

A public health problem.

Smoking in movies is a problem because research has shown that exposure to smoking imagery in movies directly influences youth smoking behaviors. For example:

  • Thirty-seven percent of adolescents who start smoking do so because of smoking images they saw in the movies. 
  • Youth who are heavily exposed to onscreen smoking imagery are about two to three times as likely to begin smoking, compared with youth who are lightly exposed.

The 2018 Oscar nominees that showed smoking images include half of the films rated PG or PG-13 and all of the R-rated films. In 2014, the U.S. surgeon general concluded that if all films with smoking were rated R, teen smoking rates would decline 18 percent. That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that giving an R rating to movies with tobacco content would prevent 1 million tobacco deaths among children and teens alive today.

Pushing studios toward a solution.

A group of public health organizations, including Truth Initiative®, issued a challenge to entertainment studios to apply an R rating to movies with smoking by June 1, 2018. Only films that portray real people who used tobacco, such as documentaries or biographical dramas, or that depict the negative health effects of tobacco use, should be exempt.

As part of this effort, Truth Initiative and Trinity Health gave 10 youth-serving groups grants to raise awareness of the issue of smoking in movies and popular culture, and advocate for entertainment media companies to implement an R rating for movies with smoking.  Each group received a “Reinvent the Reel” grant of up to $2,500 to educate and engage young people around the issue of tobacco use in movies at local events and on social media.

The groups have been participating in a week of action leading up to the award show this Sunday. Follow along and participate by following the social media hashtag #HelpOscarQuit.