Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Findings Just Released in CDC's Weekly Journal Underscore Need for Strategies to Eliminate Smoking in Major Motion Pictures, Members of Congress Call on Hollywood to Adopt Them, Save Lives

/PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) today about the amount of smoking in major motion pictures during the past 18 years. According to the report, "Smoking in Top Grossing Movies -- United States, 1991-2009," theater audiences were exposed to 17 billion smoking impressions in 2009 alone, even though 2009 was the first year that a majority of all films were smoke-free.

Past research by the National Cancer Institute, the highest authority on cancer research in the U.S., had previously concluded that smoking in movies causes youth smoking, but today's report also concludes that a comprehensive approach, if adopted, could save young lives from life-long tobacco addictions. Nearly 80 percent of all adult smokers begin before the age of 18.

The report concluded that, "Effective methods to reduce the harms of on-screen tobacco use should be implemented. Policies to decrease the negative impact of movie smoking on youth have been recommended by the World Health Organization and endorsed by a number of public health and health professional organizations. These include awarding R ratings to new movies that portray tobacco imagery. An R rating policy would create an economic incentive for producers to leave smoking out of movies that are marketed to youth. Complementary recommended policies include requiring strong anti-tobacco ads preceding movies that depict smoking, not allowing tobacco brand display in movies, and requiring producers of movies depicting tobacco use to certify that person or companies associated with the production received any consideration for that depiction."

Members of Congress today called on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to act on this critical and timely issue. "The CDC report reaffirms that the presence of smoking in movies can significantly influence a child's decision to start smoking. It's time for the movie industry to accept its own version of a nicotine patch by embracing a policy that will help them kick the habit of including images of smoking in movies targeting youth. Such a commitment would be a powerful investment in the long-term public health of our youth and our nation," said U.S. Congressman Edward J. Markey, (D-MA), senior member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

U.S. Congressman Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, concurred. "The report today reiterates what we have known about smoking for many years now--depictions of smoking in movies influence kids. Another study from Dartmouth found that one-third to one-half of youth smoking initiation is explained by exposure to smoking in movies. I hope that the movie industry takes a good, hard look at the recommendations in the report and takes steps to reduce the number of young people who take up smoking each year. The health of children here in the U.S. and around the world could be improved by removing tobacco use from movies rated for broad audiences."

"Smoking in Top-Grossing Movies -- United States, 1991-2009" details a content analysis of the 50 top grossing films each year from 1991-2001 and the 10 top grossing movies each week in 2002-2009. Research was conducted by the University of California, San Francisco and Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails. Tobacco incidents and other characteristics were monitored. Key findings:

-- In 2009, more than half (54 percent) of PG-13 films featured tobacco
-- Total tobacco impressions varied between 30 and 60 billion/year from
1991-2001 then started a general decline, reaching a low of about 17
billion in 2009.
-- Total tobacco incidents in all films fell by half in the last four
years, yet incidents in 2009 (1,935) films still exceed those in 1998

"While we have made progress over the past four years consecutively, research shows more than 1.1 million current smokers, aged 12-17, in the U.S. were heavily influenced by tobacco imagery in movies," said Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, President and CEO of Legacy, the foundation that funded the research. "Of those 1.1 million current smokers, 360,000 will eventually die from tobacco-induced diseases. That is still too high a price for our society to pay." Smoking in films has been a major public health priority for organizations like Legacy, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and more. The groups are urging film studios to endorse four Smoke-Free Movies goals:

1. Rating "R" any new movie with smoking, with the exception of movies
that depict the health consequences of smoking or actual historic
figures who actually smoked;
2. Inserting strong, evidence-based and proven-effective anti-smoking
public service announcements (PSAs) before movies with smoking, in all
distribution and exhibition channels;
3. Requiring producers to certify that no consideration of any kind was
received for tobacco depictions in a film; and
4. Ending the depiction of tobacco brands on screen.

Legacy also called attention to the fact that the states are now spending more money subsidizing films with smoking than they are on their own state tobacco programs and noted that, "States could harmonize their film subsidy programs with public health goals by making films with tobacco imagery ineligible for public subsidy."

For more than 10 years, the national Smoke Free Movies campaign has been pushing the entertainment industry to endorse the four Smoke Free Movies' policy solutions. "It is entirely feasible for the entertainment industry to adopt these industry-wide policies to get tobacco imagery out of the movies that kids see most. R-rating future movies with smoking will give producers a permanent incentive to keep G, PG and PG-13 films smoke-free and reduce tobacco recruitment through this decades-old promotional channel by at least half," said Stanton Glantz, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and contributing author of the report. Glantz also directs the national Smoke Free Movies campaign.

"With the CDC and Members of Congress now recognizing the need for industry-wide strategies that work, we expect to see the U.S. film industry swiftly adopt these four policies to keep tobacco out of youth-rated films and protect the lives of their most vulnerable audience -- millions of American youth," Healton said.

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