New York State Department of Health Urges Hollywood to Take Immediate Action to Rid Movies Our Children See of Smoking

One-Year Anniversary Highlights Movie Studios' Indifference to Children's Health

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 16, 2008) – It's been one year since the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) pledged to make the movies that children see smokefree.

But nothing has been done to put that pledge into practice.

"One year later, we are still waiting for Hollywood to do the right thing," state Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., said today. "The MPAA must act now to protect children from the harmful influence of movie stars smoking gratuitously on film. We cannot sacrifice the health of another generation through indifference and inaction."

"Research shows that deaths attributable to youth exposure to on-screen tobacco will be greater in the U.S. than drunken driving, drug abuse, criminal violence and HIV/AIDS combined," Commissioner Daines said.

Today the American Medical Association objected that in the new movie "The Incredible Hulk," the character Gen. Thunderbolt Ross, played by William Hurt, is rarely onscreen without a cigar in hand. The PG-13 movie opened on Friday. "This is a bad-guy character, but that's not a justification to portray him as a smoker," Dr. Daines said. "There are plenty of bad guys in the movies who don't smoke."

A new youth smoking survey, conducted by RTI International for the state Department of Health, confirms that 26 percent of teens who saw the most smoking in movies tried smoking cigarettes compared to 8 percent of teens who saw movies with less smoking. The survey looked at teens aged 13-16 during 2004-2006 and finds a direct correlation between the number of movies seen by teens depicting smoking and youth smoking.

Preliminary Study Findings:

  • Among those teens that saw movies with the higher smoking, 35 percent were open to the idea of smoking within the next year even though they had never smoked before. This compares with about 20 percent of teens who saw movies with less smoking imagery.
  • Just 3 percent of teens who saw movies with low smoking imagery were current smokers compared with 8 percent of teens who saw movies with high levels of smoking. This is a two-fold increase in teen smoking behavior.

These findings are consistent with other national surveys of teen smoking behavior. A five-year study by scientists at Dartmouth released in 2001 suggests that an estimated 52 percent of tobacco use initiation is directly attributable to tobacco use in movies. The study also found adolescents whose favorite movie stars smoked on-screen are significantly more likely to be smokers themselves and to have a more accepting attitude toward smoking than adolescents who favor non-smoking stars.

A new report by researchers from University of California San Francisco shows that the MPAA has failed to adequately include smoking as a factor when rating movies one year after pledging to do so. The review of the MPAA's tobacco-rating practices found no substantial change in the percentage of G, PG, and PG-13 films with tobacco scenes since the new ratings plan was announced. While there was a reduction in the number of tobacco incidents in PG-13 movies, the percentage of kid-rated films with smoking has not decreased.

"These findings show how powerful the impact of smoking in youth- rated movies is on teens," said Dr. Daines. "We cannot underestimate the effect that smoking in movies has on teen smoking. Eliminating tobacco use in youth-rated movies is critical in our effort to reduce the number of young people who start smoking."

Commissioner Daines sent letters in February to the CEOs of the motion picture industry to eliminate smoking from the movies children see, asking them to protect children's health. For more information on the smoke-free movies campaign, visit http://www.smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu.