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September, 2011:

Cut it out: Smoking scenes in movies DO encourage youngsters to light up

Wednesday, Sep 28 2011

Youngsters determined not to develop a cigarette habit could find their plans going up in smoke if they watch actors light up in movies, claim scientists.

A research team from Imperial College in London argue that there’s a danger young people will mimic what they see on the big screen.

The World Health Organisation does recommend to governments around the world that films with smoking scenes contain an adult rating, but few put the advice into practice.

Suggestive: Youths are more likely to take up smoking if they watch it happening in movies, say researchers. Pictured is Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct

Suggestive: Young people are more likely to take up smoking if they watch it happening in movies, say researchers. Pictured is Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct

Lead researcher Dr Christopher Millett, a senior lecturer at Imperial’s School of Public Health, points out that in fact ‘many governments provide generous subsidies to the U.S. film industry to produce youth-rated films that contain smoking and as such indirectly promote youth smoking’.

There are hundreds of famous smoking scenes in films from Basic Instinct to Bridget Jones, but the report by Dr Millett’s team, published in PLoS Medicine magazine, states that exposure to tobacco imagery in movies is a ‘potent cause of youth experimentation and progression to established smoking’.

It adds: ‘Governments should ensure that film subsidy programmes are harmonised with public health goals by making films with tobacco imagery ineligible for public subsidies.’

Theory at the edge of reason? Could Bridget Jones be unwittingly pushing youngsters into a cigarette habit

Theory at the edge of reason? Scientists believe Bridget Jones could unwittingly be encouraging youngsters into a cigarette habit

This conclusion is backed up by recent research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, which revealed that smokers’ brains ‘light up’ when they see actors puffing away on-screen.

‘When a smoker sees someone smoking, their brain seems to simulate the movements they would make if they were having a cigarette themselves,’ said Todd Heatherton at the Centre for Social Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

Potent image: Researchers used Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men, starring Nicolas Cage, to test the responses of smokers to a character lighting up in a movie

Potent image: Researchers used Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men, starring Nicolas Cage, to test the responses of smokers to a character lighting up in a movie

Dr Heatherton used magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of volunteers watching Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men, which contains a lot of smoking scenes.

Reward circuits in the brains of smokers fired up whenever a cigarette in the film was lit.

Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney, also writing in PLoS Medicine, however, argues that the link between smoking in movies and smoking uptake is not a straightforward one and that censorship is not the answer.

Download PDF : PLOSjournal.pmed.1001077

Government Inaction on Ratings and Government
Subsidies to the US Film Industry Help Promote Youth

Smoke-free streets has to be next goal

South China Morning Post – 28 Sept. 2011

Breaking records would seem to be part of the Hong Kong psyche, with dozens set over the years for everything from hauling aircraft by hand to the biggest outdoor light show. But when it comes to being a world-beater, becoming the world’s first smoke-free city should be one of our goals. With just 11.1 per cent of people over the age of 15 smoking, we already have the lowest rate in the Asia-Pacific region and what would appear to be the best among developed societies. A single-digit figure and then smoke-free status – a level at which smokers make up 5 per cent or less of the population – have to be our goal.

Smoking rates are declining in most rich parts of the world, but it is thanks to three decades of campaigning by anti-tobacco lobbyists and our government’s attentiveness that Hong Kong’s levels are so low. The ill effects to health of cigarettes and second-hand smoke are well recognised by authorities. That has led to high taxes and bans on smoking in indoor public places. The next steps have to be even better enforcement of laws, more far-reaching advertising to dissuade visitors from smoking and to extend the restrictions to outdoor venues.

We should be proud of what has been achieved. There was a time when smoking was the epitome of cool and glamour. Cigarettes were widely advertised and nothing stood in the way of lighting up in a cinema, restaurant or bus. Fortunately, though, society has learned that health is more important than image and cigarettes are increasingly frowned upon.

But the fight is far from over. Overseas studies show that children are easily influenced, especially by the behaviour of parents and peers. Despite the indoor bans, it is not uncommon to see smoking in some pubs, nightclubs and karaoke bars. Busy shopping districts are still clouded by the cigarette smoke of tourists. Great strides have been made, but no records for low smoking rates will be set unless more effort is put into enforcing laws and making streets smoke-free.

little has changed – Just the price

Download PDF : BrownWilliamsonSjhb50f00

The good old days of product placement in the movies

Download PDF : MoviesSegx62d00

Motion Picture Placement of Cigarettes, Cigars of smoking tobaccos


Smoking in the movies

June 2009 — World Health Organization issues new film policy guide

Download PDF : Smoking in the movies

Smoke Screen: Tobacco in the Movies

In Canada, 38% of current and former smokers began smoking before their 15th birthday.1 Behaviours and attitudes of friends and family are considered major influences on young peoples’ decisions to start smoking. However, health studies are pointing to another contributing factor – movies. Research suggests that there is a strong link between viewing smoking in films and smoking initiation among adolescents.2

In 2003, the Dartmouth Medical School conducted a study in which they recruited over 2600 young people, ages 10-14, who had never smoked. The Dartmouth researchers followed the young people for 13-26 months, during which time 10% of the young people started to smoke. They found that the young people with the most exposure to smoking in films were almost three times as likely to have started smoking as those in the group with the lowest exposure.3 In 2005, Dartmouth conducted a larger study, involving over 6500 subjects aged 10-14 with almost identical results.4

In the December 2006 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a study “The Extent to Which Tobacco Marketing and Tobacco Use in Films Contribute to Children’s Use of Tobacco,” found that depictions of smoking in movies are more psychologically powerful than cigarette advertisements and have a greater impact on children’s attitudes and behaviours regarding smoking. The research looked at 51 studies and found that media exposure to tobacco use increases the odds of youth taking up smoking almost threefold.5

The University of California, San Fransico’s (UCSF) Centre for Tobacco Control Research and Education, estimates that every year 390,000 teens start smoking because of its depiction in films – translating to $4.1 billion in lifetime sales revenue for the tobacco industry.6

Product Placement

Product placement, the practise of using real commercial products in media, has been used by marketers and companies since the 1980s. During the eighties tobacco companies paid movie producers and actors hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote their brand of cigarettes. (Examples of product placement in movies can be found at

In 1989, the U.S. congress started to investigate the tobacco industry’s involvement in the movie industry. High profile tobacco product placements in movies such as the James Bond film Licence to Kill (1989) led to a voluntary ban within the tobacco industry on this practice. Tobacco product placement has since been considered illegal in the U.S.7 Similarly, in Canada tobacco companies cannot advertise or pay for exposure on television or in movies.8Despite the self regulatory ban, and the fact that tobacco product placement is prohibited; the frequency of smoking in movies has increased.9 In 2002, 74% of all American films featured smoking, including three-quarters of youth-rated movies, regardless of the tobacco industry’s assertion that they did not request or grant permission for the appearance of any cigarette product.10

Smoking in PG-13 Films

Why target youth?

The tobacco industry is losing its customers. Smoking kills over 45,000 Canadians each year, and thousands of other smokers are quitting. Tobacco companies need to recruit more smokers to take the place of those who have died or quit. Most smokers choose their favourite brand of cigarettes and become addicted to nicotine during their teens.

(Source: The Lung Association,

Health advocates argue that because the youth market is so crucial to tobacco sales, and teenagers make up over a quarter of the movie-going population, it is advantageous for tobacco companies to have a presence in the movies.11

In 2003 the American Lung Association released a study that reviewed 145 movies and found that PG-13 movies contain more tobacco use than R-rated films intended for adults.11 In a similar study the following year found that eighty percent of the popular PG-13 movies examined depicted tobacco use.13

The American Medical Association (AMA) Alliance released a list of movies made in 2006 that were the worst offenders for glamorizing smoking. Of the seven movies listed, five were PG-13 films. The films that made the list were The Ant Bully (PG), Material Girls (PG), Talladega Nights(PG-13), Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (PG-13), Stay Alive (PG-13), Superman Returns (PG-13), andYou, Me and Dupree (PG-13).14

For some young people, they may be exposed to more smoking in movies than they encounter in real life. On average, adolescents watch three movies a week. Films generally contain five smoking episodes per film, equaling to fifteen exposures a week.15

Quick Facts…

  • Since 1998, smoking in PG-13 movies has increased 50 per cent.16
  • Non-smoking teens who watch their favourite stars frequently smoke on screen are 16 times more likely to have positive attitudes toward smoking in the future.17
  • Current movie heroes are four times more likely to smoke than are people in real life.18
  • UCSF’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education estimates that movies with smoking generate $894 million per year in tobacco profits.19

For Discussion

  • Do you think movies that depict smoking, and the stars who smoke, influence the way people think and feel about tobacco?
  • What has a more sway, tobacco use by a film character on-screen or tobacco use by an actor off-screen? For example Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl(2003), although a pirate, doesn’t smoke and, in fact, in one scene throws tobacco overboard. However, in real life there are many photos of Johnny Depp smoking.
  • Should actors have a right to deny their characters the ability to smoke? Discuss the following comment by actor Eliza Dushka “I had to smoke for a role when I was 15 and it kinda stuck. I made all these plans to quit this year, but then I got a role in a DeNiro movie, and I smoke in that…so I don’t know.”19
  • Discuss the following quote from Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and anti-tobacco activist. “If Hollywood just got the smoking out of youth-related films, it would have a huge effect, and it would cost nothing. It would be the most cost-effective health intervention ever done.”20
    • Do you agree with his statement? If so, in what ways can Hollywood get smoking out of films?
    • Many anti-smoking organizations are requesting that tobacco use in a film should affect its rating. Do you think films that depict tobacco use should get an automatic ‘R’ rating? Can you think of alternatives to an ‘R’ rating? (ie. Warning labels)
  • Define (or research) what ‘social responsibility’ means to you. Do you think movies are or need to be socially responsible? If so, in what ways can filmmakers be accountable for their depictions? What role does social responsibility play in depictions of tobacco use in movies?


1. Healthy Lung Chart (modelling the Scene Smoking)

Visit the Web site The Web site, developed by the “Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!” project of the American Lung Association of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, is designed to raise awareness about the impact of tobacco use in movies. The site provides a ratings chart for current films – pink lungs for films without tobacco to black lungs for films that depict significant tobacco use.

Students can create their own healthy lung chart by tracking and accessing, over the course of two weeks, the tobacco use in films and television shows they view.

2. Smoking Survey

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in July of 2006 that the percentage of high school students that smoked cigarettes increased to 23 per cent in 2005 from 21.9 per cent in 2003. The increase is the first since a steady 40 per cent decline in high school smoking rates between 1997, when 36.4 per cent of high school students smoked, and 2003.22

Have students survey their peers on their tobacco use. For the students who smoke, ask them what factors were involved in choosing to smoke.

3. Public Awareness Campaign

Tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world23 and the single most important cause of preventable illness and premature death in Canada.24 Health advocates argue that films normalize smoking and too few films depict the negative or long-term effects of smoking.25

As a group, have students brainstorm ways to create an awareness campaign on the effects of smoking. Possible ideas may include: posters; public service announcements, as either an audio piece over the intercom or a video piece to share with younger grades; the creation of an anti-smoking Web site; a blog that reviews films on tobacco depictions; or other student ideas.

Quote from the film Thank-you for Smoking

Jeff Megall: They have a futuristic sci-fi movie they’re looking to make.

Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?

Jeff Megall: It’s the final frontier, Nick.

Nick Naylor: But wouldn’t they blow up in an all oxygen environment?

Jeff Megall: Probably. But it’s an easy fix. One line of dialogue. ‘Thank God we invented the… you know, whatever device.’

Monday’s medical myth: smoking helps control your weight

26 Sept. 2011

One of the few positives put forward by smokers to justify their habit is that it helps keep their weight in check. And while smoking may be harmful to their health, so is obesity. So how does this claim measure up? The health harms of smoking are well known – it is one of the world’s leading causes…


One of the few positives put forward by smokers to justify their habit is that it helps keep their weight in check. And while smoking may be harmful to their health, so is obesity.

So how does this claim measure up?

The health harms of smoking are well known – it is one of the world’s leading causes of illness and death. But the rising rates of obesity have overtaken smoking as the leading independent risk factor contributing to poor health.

When you combine smoking and obesity you get a major health hazard which cuts the average life expectancy by 13 years compared with non-smokers of a healthy weight.

Putting aside the undisputed serious health risks of smoking, is there any credence to the claim by smokers that their habit helps keep their weight in check?

critical review of the medical research on smoking and weight management found that in the short term, nicotine can increase the body’s ability to burn energy and has a small effect on reducing appetite.

But rather than look at conclusions made from cross-sectional studies, which only look at current smoking status and body weight at a single point in time, we need to look at what happens to a smoker’s weight over time.

In these long-term studies, you find that smokers don’t control their weight any better than non-smokers.

When you combine all this research together, the “thin smoker” image may arise because thin people are more likely to take up the habit in the first place.

Once they start smoking, they gain just as much weight, and sometime even more, as the rest of the non-smoking population.

Surprisingly, very heavy smokers gain more weight than light smokers. This may be because low levels of physical activity, poor diet and alcohol are key culprits of obesity, and these lifestyle factors are known to cluster around heavy smokers.

So for someone thinking of quitting, should they expect their weight to balloon as a consequence?

Past research on smoking cessation and weight has shown the risk of weight gain is small but real.

Long-term quitters gain, on average, between three and five kilograms in the ten years after they quit. The risk of gaining weight is highest in the two years immediately after quitting and seems to decline thereafter.

But this is no reason to continue smoking. The health risks of cancer and metabolic disease places smoking at the bottom of the list for ways to control weight. Small changes to diet and physical activity can easily offset the slight amount of weight gained over several years after quitting.

The often-promoted “benefit” of controlling weight by smoking is greatly exaggerated, and more myth than reality.

Even if this myth were true, it’s far better for your health to be an overweight non-smoker than it is to be a thin smoker.

Measuring the effect of cigarette plain packaging on transaction times and selection errors in a simulation experiment



Australia has introduced legislation to force all cigarette packaging to be generic from 2012 onwards. The tobacco retail industry estimates this will result in transaction times increasing by 15–45 s per pack and is spending at least $A10 million of tobacco industry funds on an advertising campaigns claiming that the increased time and errors associated with plain packaging will ultimately cost small businesses $A461 million per annum and endanger 15 000 jobs. We undertook an objective experiment to test these claims.


Participants (n=52) were randomly assigned to stand in front of a display of either 50 plain or coloured cigarette packets and then were read a randomly ordered list of cigarette brands. The time participants took to locate each packet was recorded and all selection errors were noted. After 50 ‘transactions’, participants repeated the entire experiment with the alternative plain/coloured packs. Afterwards, participants were asked in an open-ended manner whether plain or coloured packaging was easier to locate and why.


The average transaction was significantly quicker for plain compared with coloured packs (2.92 vs 3.17 s; p=0.040). One or more mistakes were made by 40.4% of participants when selecting coloured packaging compared with only 17.3% for plain packaging (p=0.011). Qualitative results suggested that the colours and inconsistent location of brand names often served to distract when participants scanned for brands.


Rather than plain packaging requiring an additional 45 s per transaction, our results suggest that it will, if anything, modestly decrease transaction times and selection errors.

HK on track to becoming first smoke-free city

South China Morning Post — 25 Sept 2011

Just 11pc of adult residents use tobacco after steep falls in the habit thanks to restrictions on lighting up, tax increases and peer pressure, health experts say

The dwindling number of smokers in Hong Kong is setting the city on course to become the rich world’s first “smoke-free” city.

The current level of 11.1 per cent of people aged 15 or above who smoke in Hong Kong – the outcome of higher taxes, social factors and effective anti-tobacco campaigning – is believed to be the lowest in the developed world. The figure, released in August, is the result of a Census and Statistics Department survey of 13,375 households conducted from October to December last year.

Experts say the downward trend will continue as new tax increases take effect, sending smoking levels into single digits as the habit becomes more socially unacceptable.

The momentum could make Hong Kong the first city in the developed world to achieve “smoke-free” status – a level at which smokers make up 5 per cent or less of the adult population, a target set by countries including New Zealand and Finland.

Insurers consider someone who has consumed tobacco just once in the past 12 months to be a smoker, but Hong Kong health officials define a smoker as someone who smokes at least one cigarette a day. Those who smoke only on weekends are thus not considered smokers.

Dr Judith Mackay, a senior adviser to the World Lung Foundation and the World Health Organisation who has worked closely with the Hong Kong government on tobacco control since the 1980s, said there had been a profound change in attitudes.

“When I started with this work, you could smoke anywhere in Hong Kong,” she said. “There were massive billboards, advertising on TV, advertising on the radio and ubiquitous advertising and promotion.

“There were no smoke-free areas. You could smoke in cinemas, on buses, you could smoke anywhere. This has just been an incredible public health move.”

Three decades ago, nearly one in four adults smoked. Today, Mackay said, the city may be nearing an “end game” with the tobacco industry.

One reason for the low smoking rate is that it combined relatively low male smoking rates similar to Western countries with extremely low female rates of 3 per cent to 5 per cent – common to Asian countries.

But government initiatives took much credit for the recent, sharper downturn in smoking levels, Mackay argued. “What Hong Kong has done most recently is introduce the whole smoke-free-areas initiative plus the fact we have had tax increases – it’s as simple as that,” she said. “Plus, we are seriously beginning to introduce assistance with quitting for smokers.”

Mackay said a backlash from the tobacco industry was inevitable and pointed out legal actions had been launched globally to challenge moves towards declaring smoke-free areas.

Dr Raymond Ho Lei-ming, head of the Department of Health’s Tobacco Control Office, agreed that going below 10 per cent of smokers in the adult population could be a significant turning point. “We are trying to set a new cultural norm,” he said. “There will be more pressure on smokers to quit or at least to reduce if they can’t quit immediately. More importantly, it will help stop the next generation from taking up smoking.”