THURSDAY, July 14, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- The number of films that children are likely to see that include smoking has dropped for the fifth year in a row, a new report finds.
Overall, there has been a nearly 72 percent drop since 2005 in smoking images in movies rated G, PG or PG-13 -- from 2,093 incidents of onscreen smoking to 595 in 2010. In addition, the average number of smoking incidents in youth-rated films dropped more than 66 percent -- from about 20 percent in 2005 to 6.8 percent in 2010.
"This study shows that studios know how to eliminate smoking from youth-rated movies and have nothing to fear from a policy requiring them to do so," said Vince Willmore, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "The Motion Picture Association of America should move quickly to adopt a policy requiring an R-rating for any movie that depicts smoking that is not in a historical setting."
However, the drop in onscreen smoking varied depending on the motion picture company, according to researchers led by Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco. His team found that from 2005 to 2010, companies that had policies to reduce onscreen smoking had an average decrease in depictions of almost 96 percent, compared with about 42 percent among companies that have no such policies.
Speaking at the press conference, Glantz, director of the Smoke Free Movies Project, was more specific about why smoking in youth-rated movies has decreased dramatically.
"The reason is that three of the studios, Time Warner, Disney and Comcast/Universal, have eliminated smoking from their youth-rated films," he said, "whereas News Corp/Twentieth Century Fox, Viacom/Paramount and Sony/Columbia/Screen Gems, as well as the independents, have made much less progress. Future progress is going to depend on getting the laggards on board."
One of the things that can be done to get smoking out of movies is to give any film that depicts smoking an R rating, Glantz noted. "These results demonstrate the feasibility of an R rating for smoking and also the need for it," he said. "It does show that an enforced policy can have a substantial effect in reducing smoking in youth-rated films, while still allowing the studios to make very good, very successful films."
Another way to help get smoking out of films is for states that subsidize film companies to deny that tax advantage if the film contains smoking scenes. "There is no reason, especially in these times when schools are being cut, when police and fire are being cut, to be spending a penny of taxpayer money helping to sell cigarettes," Glantz said.
The report is published in the July 15 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, studies show that seeing smoking in movies is directly related to getting adolescents to start smoking.
In fact, teens exposed to the most onscreen smoking are twice as likely to start smoking as teens who see little or no onscreen smoking, the new report said.
That's why it's heartening that "the percentages of 2010 top-grossing movies with no tobacco incidents were the highest observed in two decades," according to the study authors. They also contend that the drop in onscreen smoking "might have contributed to the decline in cigarette use among middle school and high school students."
"The nation continues to struggle with youth initiation to smoking and smoking imagery in movies is a key driver of youth initiation," Ursula E. Bauer, director of the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said during an early afternoon press conference.
"One of the factors that prompts young people to try cigarettes is seeing smoking imagery onscreen in movies," she said. "In fact, adolescents with the highest exposure to onscreen smoking are about twice as likely to try smoking as those with the least exposure."
"The reality is that dozens of top grossing, youth-rated, movies released each year continue to put our youth at risk of starting smoking by their depictions of smoking in youth-rated movies," Bauer said.
Bauer hopes the Motion Picture Association of America would adopt an R rating for films that depict smoking. "We wouldn't see more movies that are rated R," she said. "We would expect to see fewer youth-rated movies that contain tobacco imagery and we would expect that to protect our children for a lifetime of addiction and premature death."
For more on teen smoking, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.