A new CDC report could reignite the debate over Hollywood’s influence on teen tobacco use

A new study about a rise in onscreen smoking is helping firm up the link between the media’s influences and our real-life behavior.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 2010 and 2016, the number of instances tobacco was used in any calendar week’s top 10-grossing movies had grown by a whopping 80 percent. From 2010 to 2016, the big screen increased overall tobacco impressions — otherwise known as the individual occurrences of tobacco use — by 72 percent, or 1,321 films.

Among R-rated films, the trend grew 90 percent over that six-year period while films that fall under the young-adult-oriented PG-13 rating saw a 43 percent increase. On the other hand, the percentage of youth-oriented films featuring tobacco use dropped to 26 percent in 2016 from 31 percent in 2010. In addition, G and PG films were the only group to see a drop in impressions, which went from 30 to 4 between 2015 and 2016.

The CDC attributes the decline in the percentage of movies featuring tobacco use to “a decline in smoking in movies with larger budgets,” specifically films that spend more than $50 million. For perspective, in 2007 the average cost to produce a major studio movie — without marketing — was $65 million, which seems to be leading to substantially more films losing the presence of tobacco than are retaining it.

The drop in the percentage of youth-oriented films featuring tobacco use, as well as the dramatic decline in tobacco occurrences in G and PG films, is positive. Still, tobacco impressions within films geared toward teens and young adults hasn’t improved since 2010. If it had, the CDC reports that all youth-rated films would have been completely smoke-free by 2015. Instead, “the average number of tobacco incidents increased 55 percent in youth-rated movies with any tobacco depiction,” a result of five of Hollywood’s six major movie companies — all of which have corporate tobacco depiction policies — featuring more tobacco use.

The answer to the issue lies with where, how much, and what type of tobacco is being used in cinema. In short, fewer movies are featuring not just more smoking but more kinds of tobacco use. That concentrated increase is once again raising concerns about the relationship between tobacco’s presence in media and an increased likelihood of picking up the habit.

The full story was first published at Vox on July 13, 2017

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