Depictions of people using tobacco in top-grossing movies grew by 80% from 2015 to 2016, according to a new study.
The report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found tobacco use in movies jumped up a total of 72% from 2010 to 2016. Although the number of movies that showed “tobacco incidents” — defined by the CDC as the use or implied use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah, smokeless tobacco products and electronic cigarettes — declined from 2005 to 2010, that downward trend stopped in 2010.
The CDC analyzed data from Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!, a project that analyzes tobacco content in movies under non-profit Breathe California. The data is posted to the website SceneSmoking.org, which lists the number of tobacco incidents in each movie. For example, 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, a PG-13 movie, had 8,333,295 tobacco impressions using cigarettes, according to the website. La La Land, also rated PG-13, had 34,936,834 tobacco impressions using cigarettes.
Overall, the number of tobacco incidents shown in R-rated movies grew by 90%, while PG-13 movies saw a significant increase of 43% from 2010 to 2016. In 2016, 67% of R-rated movies featured tobacco incidents, while 26% of “youth-rated movies” (G, PG or PG-13) showed the same.
The rise of smoking on screen has worried health professionals, who warned that the more frequency with which young people see tobacco use in movies will make them more likely to smoke. According to the CDC, youths who have a lot of exposure to smoking in movies are about 2 to 3 times more likely to start smoking than other young people who are less exposed.
In spite of the rise of tobacco incidents on screen, teen smoking has steadily declined since 2011. The number of teens who said they used tobacco dropped to 3.9 million in 2016 from 4.7 million the year before, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends reducing tobacco incidents in movies meant for young people and giving films with tobacco use an R-rating. The Motion Picture Association of America does not currently give R-ratings to movies just because of tobacco incidents, although it does have a descriptor that indicates when some movies contain smoking.