Despite health-care concerns, smoking
bans in public places and a government order that restricts advertising,
cigarettes are as prevalent as ever in Hollywood. Not only do movies
show characters lighting up much more frequently than their real-life
counterparts, but in the past decade films have increasingly depicted
tobacco use as natural, especially among young people.
John F. Banzhaf III, executive director
of the Washington, D.C.-based Action on Smoking and Health, notes that
from the 1940s until the mid-1960s, motion pictures routinely depicted
smoking by characters that reflected an accurate portrayal of society
at the time because nearly half of adult males smoked. And they smoked
anywhere they wanted: at work, on airplanes, in restaurants. But since
1964, when 42 percent of Americans smoked before a Surgeon Generals
report linked smoking and cancer, rates have steadily fallen.
Now, according to the American Heart
Association, 28 percent of men and 22 percent of women are smokers.
There has been no corresponding decline in the movies. According to
a study by Dartmouth Medical School released in January, 85 percent
of the top 250 moneymaking films during a 10-year span ending in 1987
had some tobacco use, including several such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit
and Dick Tracy aimed at young teens.
Smoking in movies didnt decline
during the period even after tobacco companies vowed to quit paying
filmmakers to feature their brands. Of the 250 movies Dartmouth examined,
217 featured tobacco use, with 180 of those showing an actual brand.
In another recent study by the American
Journal of Public Health, the main character smoked in 57 percent of
While movie smoking once was largely
restricted to gangsters, gamblers and alcoholics, films in the past
10 years have shown an increasing number of healthy young characters
puffing away for no reason relative to the plot.
"Today a lot of movies show
people smoking in offices and parties," says Banzhaf, who founded
ASH the nations oldest and largest anti-smoking organization
in 1967. "But that just doesnt happen in real life.
People have to go outside. Smoking in society is not seen as desirable."
After a congressional investigation
prompted by complaints from ASH, tobacco companies in 1989 voluntarily
agreed to discontinue paying for placement of their products in movies.
ASH had uncovered multiple instances of the practice, including Philip
Morris shelling out $350,000 to make sure its cigarettes were featured
in the 1989 James Bond flick License To Kill.
Under terms of the 1998 national
tobacco settlement, companies also are precluded from donating goods
and services (such as new cars or jewelry) to screenwriters, producers,
directors and actors in exchange for placement of cigarettes in motion
pictures. ASH successfully argued that the practice constitutes a form
of advertising and thus requires an accompanying congressionally mandated
Nevertheless, the practice continues.
Government restrictions say nothing about preventing other crew members
benefiting from making sure cigarettes make it into a scene.
"Theres been no change
in the amount of product placement in the movies," says Bridget
Ahrens, project manager of the Dartmouth study. "The depiction
is much more blatant."
The national tobacco settlement
restricted cigarette advertising on billboards, clothing and cartoon
characters. Sneaking a puff in celluloid is one of the few media outlets
"Now we have stars holding
a pack, which is much more effective than in the past when a pack was
on a bar counter in the background," Ahrens says.
ASH has convinced the U.S. Department
of Justice to begin an informal investigation into concealed motives
of cigarette use in movies.
Ahrens says manufacturers strive
to get studios to include their products as props because it increases
"Anything that is in a scene
is there for a reason," Ahrens says.
Banzhaf also believes a recent rise
in teen smoking correlates to stars smoking on screen.
"These are actually hidden
commercials, with the subliminal message that smoking is cool,"
he says. "What goes on in movies dramatically impacts behavior
and kids perception of reality."
More than 3,000 persons under age
17 begin smoking every day, according to the American Heart Association.