[Virginia GASP]  SMOKING in the MOVIES & on TV

February 2004,  American Journal of Public Health   Volume 94, No. 2, pages 261-263


Back to the Future: Smoking in Movies in 2002 Compared With 1950 Levels
Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, Karen W. Kacirk and Charles McCulloch, PhD

Stanton A. Glantz and Karen Kacirk are with the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, and Charles McCulloch is with the Division of Biostatistics, all at the University of California, San Francisco.

From the Abstract:
We reviewed smoking shown in a random sample of major motion pictures from 1950 through 2002. Smoking incidents declined from 10.7 incidents per hour in 1950 to a minimum of 4.9 in 1980\x{2013}1982 but increased to 10.9 in 2002. Despite declining tobacco use and increasing public understanding of the dangers of smoking in the real world, smoking in movies has returned to levels observed in 1950, when smoking was nearly twice as prevalent in reality as it was in 2002.

EXCERPTS from Smoke Free Movies
On November 11, 2003, the first of four planned Shareholder Resolutions was filed at General Electric, which owns Universal. Others will be filed at Time Warner, corporate parent of Warner Bros., and at Viacom, owner of Paramount. The fourth resolution will be brought from the floor at Disney?s annual meeting in the spring of 2004. (Read the press release and resolution.)

In the last dozen years, investor groups have succeeded in altering specific policies related to tobacco at Philip Morris (Altria), McDonald?s, International Flavors and Fragrances, Kimberly-Clark, Knight-Ridder, 3M, RJR Nabisco, Eastman Kodak and Wendy?s.

The filers are all members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of 275 Protesant, Catholic, and Jewish institutional investors with more than $100 billion in equities held by pension, endowment, or charitable foundation funds.

The Rev. Michael Crosby, a Capuchin Franciscan friar who heads ICCR?s Tobacco Section, notes: ?For our members, who work with kids every day as educators, health care providers, and charities, it?s about the fundamental moral principle of ?Do no harm.??

The resolutions ... ask each company?s outside directors to investigate tobacco promotion in youth-rated movies produced or distributed by its major studio and explore the link between on-screen smoking and adolescent health. ...

EXCERPTS from The New York Times, op ed, headlined, Hollywood's Responsibility for Smoking Deaths, August 9, 2002, writer Joe Eszterhas, a screenwriter, and author of American Rhapsody

CLEVELAND - I've written 14 movies. My characters smoke in many of them, and they look cool and glamorous doing it. Smoking was an integral part of many of my screenplays because I was a militant smoker.

Smoking, I once believed, was every person's right. Efforts to stop it were politically correct, a Big Brother assault on personal freedoms. Secondhand smoke was a nonexistent problem invented by professional do-gooders. I put all these views into my scripts.

In one of my movies, "Basic Instinct," smoking is part of a sexual subtext. Sharon Stone's character smokes; Michael Douglas's is trying to quit. She seduces him with literal and figurative smoke that she blows into his face. In the movie's most famous and controversial scene, she even has a cigarette in her hand.

I'm sure the tobacco companies loved "Basic Instinct." One of them even launched a brand of "Basic" cigarettes not long after the movie became a worldwide hit, perhaps inspired by my cigarette-friendly work. My movie made a lot of money; so did their new cigarette.

Remembering all this, I find it hard to forgive myself. I have been an accomplice to the murders of untold numbers of human beings. I am admitting this only because I have made a deal with God. Spare me, I said, and I will try to stop others from committing the same crimes I did.

Eighteen months ago I was diagnosed with throat cancer, the result of a lifetime of smoking. I am alive but maimed. Much of my larynx is gone. I have some difficulty speaking; others have some difficulty understanding me. I no longer have the excruciating difficulty swallowing or breathing that I experienced in the first months after my surgery.

I haven't smoked or drank for 18 months now, though I still take it day-to-day and pray for help. I believe in prayer and exercise. I have walked five miles a day for a year, without missing even one day. Quitting smoking and drinking has taught me the hardest lesson I've ever learned about my own weakness; it has also given me the greatest affection and empathy for those still addicted.

I have spent some time in the past year and a half in cancer wards. I have seen people gasp for air as a suctioning device cleaned their tracheas. I have heard myself wheezing horribly, unable to catch my breath, as a nurse begged me to breathe. I have seen an 18-year-old with throat cancer who had never smoked a single cigarette in his life. (His mother was a chain smoker.) I have tried not to cry as my wife fitted the trachea tube that I had coughed out back into my throat. (Thankfully, I no longer need it.)

I don't think smoking is every person's right anymore. I think smoking should be as illegal as heroin. I'm no longer such a bad boy. I go to church on Sunday. I'm desperate to see my four boys grow up. I want to do everything I can to undo the damage I have done with my own big-screen words and images.

So I say to my colleagues in Hollywood: what we are doing by showing larger-than-life movie stars smoking onscreen is glamorizing smoking. What we are doing by glamorizing smoking is unconscionable.

Hollywood films have long championed civil rights and gay rights and commonly call for an end to racism and intolerance. Hollywood films espouse a belief in goodness and redemption. Yet we are the advertising agency and sales force for an industry that kills nearly 10,000 people daily.

A cigarette in the hands of a Hollywood star onscreen is a gun aimed at a 12- or 14-year-old. (I was 12 when I started to smoke, a geeky immigrant kid who wanted so very much to be cool.) The gun will go off when that kid is an adult. We in Hollywood know the gun will go off, yet we hide behind a smoke screen of phrases like "creative freedom" and "artistic expression." Those lofty words are lies designed, at best, to obscure laziness. I know. I have told those lies. The truth is that there are 1,000 better and more original ways to reveal a character's personality.

Screenwriters know, too, that some movie stars are more likely to play a part if they can smoke - because they are so addicted to smoking that they have difficulty stopping even during the shooting of a scene. The screenwriter writing smoking scenes for the smoking star is part of a vicious and deadly circle.

My hands are bloody; so are Hollywood's. My cancer has caused me to attempt to cleanse mine. I don't wish my fate upon anyone in Hollywood, but I beg that Hollywood stop imposing it upon millions of others.

    Does the tobacco industry promote smoking in movies and television programs?  Does the sun rise every day?

    A question asked by Virginia GASP's Anne Morrow Donley at the April, 2000 Philip Morris shareholders' meeting in Richmond, Virginia, was whether Philip Morris was paying to have smoking (not product placement, but smoking itself) in movies and television productions - whether Philip Morris was paying any writer, director, producer, actor, actress, or any other person having anything to do with movies for television or the theater, videos, or cartoons to put smoking into those productions.  Geoffrey Bible responded first about product placement, but when reminded that the question was about smoking itself, Bible said that "Philip Morris does not make movies," and that he did not know why there was smoking in the films unless it "mirrors life."  [Bible, in June, 2000, confessed to a reporter that he has given up smoking.]

    It is too obvious that smoking in recent films must be a pattern paid for by the industry.  Smoking occurs on film in places where it is not permitted in real life - such as hospital emergency rooms.  Smoking occurs in front of other people, including children, who are not smoking, and none of them complain about the smoke.  This is too much like an advertisement for the tobacco industry to be believable.  It does not "mirror" life, but only tobacco industry dreams.

Here are articles about smoking in recent films.
    The LA Times

EXCERPTS from The LA TImes, May 5, 2000, writer Amy Heckerling; headlined: Talkin' About Their Generation -  An expert on teenagers in the movies shares what she's learned about the real-life adolescent set.

                                             Amy Heckerling has directed two teen zeitgeist
                                        classics, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982) and
                                        "Clueless" (1995), as well as the popular "Look Who's
                                        Talking" (1989). In her new film, "Loser," which opens
                                        July 21, her characters are nearing the end of their
                                        teens: They're college-aged. Calendar asked for her
                                        thoughts on the enduring teen genre, her movies and a
                                        few other things.
                                                           * * *
                                             Since I directed "Clueless" and "Fast Times at
                                        Ridgemont High" (combined, they grossed less that
                                        "Porky's"), people mistakenly think I know about youth
                                        culture. Through the years, I've managed to maintain
                                        that frightened, alienated "what the hell is going on with
                                        everyone?" attitude that made me so invisible as a
                                        teenager, but now I'm more experienced at it. So with
                                        those credentials, here are my insights into commonly
                                        asked questions about "The Kids Today."

                                             What about reality versus responsibility in teen

                                             I have always tried to create a cigarette-free
                                        universe in my films. I know it's not realistic, but if the
                                        cute, young movie stars are not smoking, maybe it will
                                        send a subliminal message. If an actor states that their
                                        particular character would smoke, one can argue that
                                        their character also goes to the bathroom, but there are
                                        some things we're just not going to see. The script is
                                        what happens to them between cigarettes.

                                             Now as much as I am the angel of PC-ness when it
                                        comes to tobacco in teen movies, I am racked with guilt
                                        about another area of responsibility: the teenage model
                                        body-type as an impossible goal for average girls.
                                        During the making of "Fast Times," I was asked if I
                                        would get Jennifer Jason Leigh to lose weight. I felt that
                                        she was a regular teenage girl and that's what they
                                        looked like. Many times I've suggested a certain actress
                                        for a part and was told, "Bow wow," meaning, "Can't
                                        you find anyone cuter?" I realize I work in Hollywood
                                        and we are in the business of creating fantasies, but
                                        adolescent girls feel disgusted enough with their bodies.
                                        I would love to see more acceptance of the beauty of
                                        all types of faces and bodies, especially in movies for

                                             What about my new film coming this summer?
                                             Funny I should ask. It's called "Loser," and it stars
                                        Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari and Greg Kinnear. Jason
                                        plays a guy in college who is hard-working, decent and
                                        has a big heart, so naturally people think he is a loser.
                                        Wackiness ensues. (That's my favorite movie
                                        description; actually there is no ensuing by anything
                                        wacky.) There is a crazy twist ending, and no one is
                                        allowed to leave the theater during the last 10 minutes.

EXCERPTS from Independent, May 14, 2000, writer Cherry Norton, headlined: Hollywood: last resort of smokers

According to the most comprehensive
                               research ever done on tobacco on screen, leading characters
                               are lighting up in more than nine out of 10 films, while a fifth of
                               movies aimed at children feature smoking.

                               The findings are the result of work by a team of American
                               researchers at Dartmouth Medical School, New Hampshire.
                               They looked at the 250 highest-grossing US films over 10
                               years and discovered that in 95 per cent of them the characters
                               are continuing to smoke. In the worst cases, the stars are
                               seen puffing away for a third of the films' duration.

                               JFK, Oliver Stone's Oscar-winner starring Kevin Costner, came
                               out as the worst offender of the 1990s and was branded the
                               smokiest film. It was quickly followed by Dick Tracy and Bugsy.
                               Cocktail and Pulp Fiction featured smoking on screen for
                               almost a third of their entire length, while Schindler's List,
                               Forrest Gump, Titanic and Get Shorty also featured tobacco

                               The researchers analysed the top 25 box-office hits from each
                               year from 1988 to 1997. They counted the number of times a
                               major or minor character smoked a cigarette or cigar and
                               recorded how long smoking was shown on screen. A total of
                               3,346 occurrences of tobacco use or imagery were identified in
                               the 250 films. One fifth of these involved use by ancillary
                               characters, and almost a third involved background tobacco
                               imagery. In more than half of the movies analysed, the major
                               character smoked.

                               Although Hollywood has now formally renounced fees for
                               placing tobacco brands prominently in view, it still uses
                               cigarettes as a cinematic shorthand denoting ruggedness in
                               men, or vampishness in female characters.

                               Tobacco use by major characters was also associated with
                               other high-risk behaviour and was portrayed differently for men
                               and women. Among female characters who smoked on
                               screen, smoking was associated with sexual affairs, illegal
                               activities and reckless driving.

                               In contrast, smoking was used by male characters to show
                               violent behaviour and dangerous acts. The interaction between
                               tobacco use, gender and the portrayal of specific behaviour
                               suggests that tobacco may be used to characterise "tough"
                               men and "bad" women, the researchers said.

                               Professor Sargent said: "Adolescents respond to role models
                               and persons of star status by emulating them. By allowing
                               stars to depict smoking behaviour on screen, the movie
                               industry may be contributing to the current epidemic of
                               adolescent tobacco use."

                               Doctors and anti-smoking campaigners have jumped on the
                               findings, condemning the widespread smoking as
                               irresponsible. The high level of smoking on screen runs
                               counter to the realities of smoking in western society, where
                               adult smoking is generally in decline, they said.

                               In Britain, the number of smokers has fallen to 27 per cent of
                               the adult population, although the latest figures show that
                               smoking among teenage girls is rising.

                               James Sargent, professor of paediatrics at Dartmouth Medical
                               School, who presented the research yesterday at the annual
                               meeting of the Paediatric Academic Societies in Boston,
                               Massachusetts, said that although the film industry had said in
                               1990 it would not to take money from tobacco companies to
                               show their products on screen, the prevalence of smoking in
                               movies was still very high. "Children viewing movies will
                               frequently be exposed to tobacco use as normative and even
                               glamorised behaviours. Parents cannot rely on movie ratings
                               to screen movies for tobacco use," he said.

                               Co-author Dr Madeline Dalton said: "We are especially
                               concerned about tobacco use by popular stars because we
                               believe this is likely to have the greatest impact on adolescent

                               Amanda Sandford of Ash, the anti-smoking group, said:
                               "Smoking tends to be portrayed in a glamorous way which
                               makes it more attractive to people. If films portrayed the reality
                               of smoking they would have people choking, wheezing and
                               dying of lung cancer."

[Virginia GASP]  Updated 18 February 2004