Cigarettes’ Fall from Cinematic Grace…Finally
Popular portrayals of cigarette smoking have undergone a dramatic revision over the past few decades. As late as the 1980s, images like Joe Camel and the Marlborough Man attempted to create strong, positive associations with cigarettes and everything from male strength and virility to improved social perception and even positive emotional experiences. Movies with actors ranging from Humphrey Bogart to James Dean, each the epitome of “cool” in their time, fostered this image, often at the paid behest of tobacco companies themselves. The absence of these kinds of images on television is obvious. But movies have also moved away from portraying cigarettes in a positive light in recent years.
Across all types of popular movies in the United States, the percentage of top-grossing movies with no incidents of smoking has increased steadily over the past decade. According to a National Cancer Institute study, even in popular R-rated movies, over 25% had zero smoking incidents in 2010. This trend is most obvious when we consider examples of the prevalence of smoking in movies in the past, such as in the child’s animated feature 101 Dalmatians, throughout which the villain Cruella Di Vil is depicted smoking.
And there is hard evidence that this decrease is very important for preventing youth smoking. Even in instances like the Disney feature, where the “bad guy” is smoking, studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between exposure to smoking in movies and rates of initiation of adolescent smoking. Besides a desire to protect the health of impressionable minors, whose decisions and behaviors are easily swayed by the images they see, keeping youth from smoking also significantly decreases their odds of developing smoking-related illnesses that come from smoking for several decades.
This might seem obvious; if they don’t smoke, cigarettes won’t hurt them as much. But studies have shown that the earlier a person starts smoking, the more addicted they become. So even for an eventual smoker, getting them to wait until after they’re 18 bodes well for their chances of quitting and protecting their health. Thus the emphasis on eliminating things like smoking in popular movies.
And it seems to be working. At the very least, rates of adolescent smoking and smoking initiation have declined at the same time as this drop in on-screen smoking has occurred. It’s likely that a number of factors which put enough pressure on movies to make them less likely to and interested in showing smoking also impacted other factors that previously led to youth smoking. Regardless, to the joy of many active parents and people concerned about the health problems that smoking causes, movies show less smoking and fewer teens are picking up cigarettes. It’s one step in the right direction.
Movies Are Showing Smoking Less Often and Less Positively than They Used to. This Seems to Be Correlated with a Decrease in Young Smokers. Learn More at Beating Smoking