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Teens Exposed to Onscreen Smoking Twice as Likely to Smoke


This week’s CDC MMWR updates a previous report in December 2010 with the latest Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! (TUTD) findings, concluding teen are two to three times more likely to smoke if exposed to more onscreen smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day in the United States, approximately 4,000 teenagers will try their first cigarette.

TUTD, a project of Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, uses persons trained as monitors to count the occurrences of tobacco use (termed "incidents") shown in U.S. top-grossing movies. The incidents are counted each calendar week among the 10 top-grossing movies.

TUTD defined a tobacco incident as the use or implied use of a tobacco product by an actor. A new incident occurred each time 1) a tobacco product went off screen and then back on screen, 2) a different actor was shown with a tobacco product, or 3) a scene changed, and the new scene contained the use or implied off-screen use of a tobacco product.

The December 2010 report from the CDC found that the number of tobacco incidents depicted in the movies during the 1991—2009 period peaked in 2005 and then progressively declined.

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This latest report shows that in 2010, the number of onscreen tobacco incidents in youth-rated (G, PG, or PG-13) movies continued a downward trend, decreasing 71.6% from 2,093 incidents in 2005 to 595 in 2010.

The CDC reports the degree of decline of smoking in movies varied substantially by motion picture company. The three companies (Time Warner (Warner Bros.), Comcast (Universal) and Disney) with published policies designed to reduce tobacco use in their movies had an average decrease in tobacco incidents of 95.8%, compared with an average decrease of 41.7% among the three major motion picture companies (Viacom (Paramount), News Corp. ( 20th Century Fox) and Sony Pictures) and independents without policies.

The CDC reports a significant increase increase in the number of movies with no tobacco incidents. In 2010, a total of 75 (54.7%) of 137 top-grossing movies had no tobacco incidents, compared with 49 (33.3%) of 147 in 2005. This is true for both R-rated movies -- 14 (29.2%) of 48 had no tobacco incidents in 2010, compared with two (4.7%) of 43 in 2005—and youth-rated movies (G, PG, or PG-13) -- 61 (69.3%) of 88 had no tobacco incidents in 2010, compared with 47 (45.2%) of 104 in 2005.

As shown in this report, there is continuing progress toward the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services goal of reducing youth exposure to onscreen smoking.

More efforts are needed to reduce initiation of smoking among youths. Monitoring 1) the success of policies in reducing tobacco incidents in youth-rated movies and 2) the impact of incident reductions on youth smoking behavior helps assess and guide efforts to protect youths from tobacco addiction.

Related post: Smoking in Movies Increases Smoking in Teens

CDC MMWR: Smoking in Top-Grossing Movies --- United States, 2010, July 15, 2011 / 60(27);909-913

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Smoking in Top-Grossing Movies—United States, 1991-2009 JAMA. 2010;304(24):2692-2694.