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Surgeon General Report: Images of Smoking in Movies and Adolescent Smoking

The 2012 Surgeon General report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, contains an extensive discussion of the effects of smoking in movies on young people.  Bottom line: "The evidence is sufficient to conclude that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people."  (p. 6)

• Significantly, the 36-page section, "Images of Smoking in Movies and Adolescent Smoking," is in Chapter 5, "The Tobacco Industry's Influences on the Use of Tobacco Among Youth."   In effect, the Surgeon General puts smoking in the movies in the same category as conventional cigarette marketing activities

• The report reviews the "Historical Links Between the Tobacco Companies and the Movie Industry" (pp. 565-566), concludes that lowering young people's level of exposure to on-screen smoking leads to lower risk of smoking (p. 593), and endorses an R rating for smoking as a way to reduce the level of exposure (p. 598).

• The report also discusses the varying response to the issue of smoking in the movies by studio, and names names (p. 570), naming the media companies that had nearly eliminated smoking in their youth-rated movies as of 2010 (Disney, Time Warner, Universal) and those that did not (Viacom, News Corp., Sony, and the independent distributors).

• The fact sheet that goes with the report states, "Youth who are exposed to images of smoking in movies are more likely to smoke. Those who get the most exposure to onscreen smoking are about twice as likely to begin smoking as those who get the least exposure. Images of smoking in movies have declined over the past decade; however, in 2010 nearly a third of top-grossing movies produced for children — those with ratings of G, PG, or PG-13 — contained images of smoking."

To facilitate use of the report in education, advocacy and policy making, we have prepared three annotated documents:

  • A compilation of key statements and conclusions on smoking in the movies from the entire report and supporting materials
  • A highlighted version of the Executive Summary
  • A highlighted version of Chapter 5

The full report, fact sheet, and supporting materials are available at the Surgeon General's website.

Click here for a radio discussion of the report with Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and UCSF professors Stanton Glantz and Pamela Ling.

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