It seems like tobacco has always been part of the movies, whether smoking on the screen, or by actors who promoted their movie and their cigarette of choice in pre-movie advertisement films, or tobacco used by lesser actors throughout the movie. It amounted to free advertisement for the tobacco industry and free smokes for the stars. It was difficult to tell if the studio system owned the star or the tobacco industry. When tobacco advertising was banned on television and newspaper ads in the early 1970s, the industry turned to placing their products in front of the public through movies. In 1998 the Master Settlement Agreement “prohibited tobacco product placement in entertainment accessible to kids” yet that didn’t stop the smoking on screen. And this year’s Oscar nominated films are no exception.
The University of California, San Francisco website Smokefree Movies has kept track for the past four years of smoking in Oscar-listed movies and by nominated actors. Here is some of what they have found for the 2018 Oscar nominated films:
– “Half of PG/PG-13 films and all the R-rated films featured smoking” – that’s 86% of
– Youth-rated films in 2018 featured twice as many tobacco incidents as in 2017.
That means audiences saw two-and-a-half as much tobacco exposure.
– In the last four years, Oscar-listed youth-rated films averaged four times more
tobacco incidents (44 incidents per film) and delivered four times more tobacco
impressions to theater audiences (271 million impressions per film), than youth-
rated films in general.
– In 2018, more women (7 in 10) than men (4 in 10) nominated for an Oscar
smoked in their role. One surprising fact, smokers are less likely to win.
One place smoking is allowed is in “biographical” films if in real life the person being portrayed actually smoked, such as Winston Churchill with his ever present cigar. In this case this movie received a PG rating. The problem is that the studios don’t stop with just the biographical character, but add additional characters and extras who are seen smoking throughout the film. According to Smokefree Movies fact sheet 29 smokers in Oscar-listed films were based on actual people who used tobacco, like Churchill. But fictional characters or extras numbered 167. Portraying an actual person who smoked may keep a film from the proposed R-rating for tobacco imagery, but all the fictional characters and extras doesn’t meet the criterion. Seeing all these people smoking, whether in a historical context or not, influences youth impression of smoking.
As an adult, we can separate the role from the actor, but not so for a child. It is difficult for them to understand that smoking isn’t glamorous when “40% of Best Actress-nominated roles and 30% of Best Actor-nominated roles included smoking” and the actor plays the part so well it looks natural. The movie industry will continue to use tobacco as a prop and push tobacco on our kids unless we decide enough is enough. As a parent, you can let your opinion be heard regarding tobacco use in movies by writing to the parent media companies. Use the highlighted links for help. And if you want to know if a movie has smoking or tobacco use, check out Smokefree Movies.
Picture of Claudette Colbert from the website The Pop History Dig