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CDC Study Finds Progress in Reducing Smoking in Movies, but R-Rating Still Needed to Protect Kids

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 14, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC (July 14, 2011) — The amount of smoking in top-grossing, youth-rated movies has dropped significantly in the past five years, with far larger declines by studios that have published policies to reduce smoking in youth-rated films (those rated G, PG or PG-13), according to a new study published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This study shows that studios can reduce and even eliminate smoking in youth-rated movies, but have taken inconsistent approaches that still result in significant youth exposure to smoking in the movies. It underscores the need for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to require an R-rating for any new movie with smoking, with the exception of movies that depict the health consequences of smoking or actual historical figures who smoked. This study shows that studios have nothing to fear from such a policy and can effectively implement it to reduce a significant cause of youth smoking.
Key findings of the study include:

  • The total number of on-screen tobacco incidents in youth-rated movies decreased by 72 percent from 2,093 in 2005 to 595 in 2010.

  • The average number of tobacco incidents per youth-rated movie decreased by 66 percent, from 20.1 in 2005 to 6.8 in 2010.

  • The three major studios that have published smoking reduction policies (Comcast/Universal, Disney and Time Warner/Warner Bros.) have almost eliminated tobacco use from their youth-rated movies. These studios on average reduced the number of tobacco incidents by 96 percent between 2005 and 2010.

  • In contrast, the three major studios (News Corporation/Twentieth Century Fox, Sony/Columbia/Screen Gems and Viacom/Paramount) and independent studios with no published smoking reduction policies have had much smaller reductions in tobacco depictions, averaging only 42 percent.

  • Despite this progress, 45 percent of top-grossing movies in 2010 still had tobacco incidents, including 31 percent of youth-rated movies.

We applaud Comcast/Universal, Disney and Time Warner/Warner Bros. for setting a positive example and nearly eliminating smoking from their youth-rated movies, and we urge the MPAA to take action to resolve this problem once and for all by requiring an R-rating for any new movie with smoking. Research shows that youth who are exposed to smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking. It's time for the movies to end their long and harmful history of glamorizing tobacco use, the nation's leading cause of preventable death.