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New Study Finds More Smoking in Movies After Tobacco Settlement

Statement by Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 29, 2002

Washington, D.C. — A new study released today by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group finds that the amount of smoking and other tobacco use increased by 50 percent in youth-oriented, PG-13 movies in the two years after the 1998 state tobacco settlement. This study provides powerful new evidence that, despite the settlement's provision prohibiting tobacco companies from taking 'any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth,' our children continue to be bombarded with messages luring them into this deadly addiction. Other studies have shown that the tobacco companies have increased their overall marketing expenditures by 42 percent since the settlement and that much of this increase has been in venues effective at reaching kids, such as convenience stores and youth-oriented magazines.

Today's study underscores the importance of states' countering the pro-smoking messages to which our kids are exposed by funding comprehensive, effective tobacco prevention programs. It is an outrage that so few states are using their tobacco settlement funds to adequately fund tobacco prevention programs and that some states, such as Massachusetts, have drastically reduced funding for successful programs. The tobacco industry and the entertainment industry continue to depict smoking as sexy, exciting and glamorous. States cannot let up in telling kids the truth about the deadly consequences of tobacco use and the efforts of the tobacco industry to manipulate and addict them.

This study raises troubling questions about the entertainment industry's depiction of tobacco use. While the study did not look at whether the tobacco industry is finding ways to circumvent the settlement's prohibition on payments for tobacco product placements in movies, based on its results, we call on the state attorneys general to investigate whether the tobacco industry is violating the relevant provisions of the settlement. We also call on the entertainment industry to voluntarily adopt measures to reduce youth exposure to pro-smoking messages in the movies, television and other forms of entertainment, including an examination of whether the Motion Picture Association of America should modify its ratings guidelines to eliminate most tobacco use from G, PG and PG-13 movies. In addition, tobacco brand identification should be eliminated and Hollywood should help to deglamorize the nation's number one cause of preventable death by producing effective anti-smoking advertisements to run before movies.

The new study examined the top grossing PG-13 movies from the two years before the tobacco settlement (1996 and 1997) and the two years after (1999 and 2000). The average amount of time that tobacco products were in use or on screen increased from 53 seconds to 81 seconds. Other studies have shown that the tobacco companies, before the settlement, regularly paid movie studios to place their brands in movies; the incidence of smoking in the movies increased in the 1990s; smoking is much more common in the movies than in the general population leading young people to conclude that 'everyone smokes;' and teenagers who watch movies that include tobacco use are more likely to have positive attitudes toward smoking.