Hollywood has had a love affair with smoking ever since the early days of movies. It has been glamorized and glorified as huge stars are seen puffing away on the big screen for dramatic affect. Unfortunately, it seems that life imitates art. The US Surgeon General has concluded that there is a relationship between smoking in movies and the likelihood that young people will start smoking. Youths heavily exposed to onscreen smoking are two to three times more likely to begin smoking than others who are less exposed.
Trends were heading in the right direction from 2005 to 2010, but seem to have reversed since then. The early gains were the result of pressure put on movie studios beginning in 2001 by federal public health departments, investors, state health departments and state attorneys general. That led to six major motion picture companies adopting policies to reduce depiction of tobacco use in youth-related films. The lesson, however, was short-lived, with depictions of tobacco use up a whopping 70% in 2016 as compared to 2010.
What can be done now? For starters, we can apply pressure on the Motion Picture Association to recommend R ratings for any movie with excessive smoking. We could also petition a softer option, by recommending that a warning at least be included at the start of the movie, like they do on TV for language, violence, nudity and sexual content. Finally, direct pressure on the movie studios worked once before. We need to remind them that concerned citizens have not disappeared. Based on current levels, 5.6 million youths alive today are projected to die from tobacco-related diseases. Tobacco use may be down, but it is still a huge killer. By keeping up the pressure, we can make a difference and rein in the Titans of Hollywood for the greater good.