Movies still sell smoking to our kids

Nowadays, we’re pretty smug about how well protected our young people are from the lure of tobacco advertising.

  • Jun. 3, 2011 8:00 p.m.

Nowadays, we’re pretty smug about how well protected our young people are from the lure of tobacco advertising.

In the past, tobacco companies could market their products directly to our kids in magazine ads and by sponsoring youth-oriented events. Fortunately, we no longer allow that kind of marketing.

Problem solved, right? Wrong.

Tobacco companies still have one effective marketing tool that they use to hook our youth:  Hollywood movies.

Have you ever noticed how often young people are smoking in movies? Check it out the next time you watch a film, and be sure to point it out when it happens. At our house, watching a movie with our kids means regular yelps of “product placement, tobacco!” as we jump and spill our popcorn.

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, “the depiction of cigarette smoking is pervasive in movies, occurring in three-quarters or more of contemporary box-office hits.”

It used to be that the majority of smoking in movies occurred in adult-rated films. But since the 1990s, most smoking happens in movies rated for children and youth.

In 2008, 65 per cent of tobacco impressions were in films rated PG13. In fact, smoking was shown in PG13 movies 11.7 billion times that year!

In films rated G and PG, smoking appeared another 200 million times. Even worse, more Canadian youth are exposed to smoking in adult-rated films because movies rated R in the U.S. are routinely rated 14A in Canada.

The scary thing about all this smoking in movies is that it encourages youth to use tobacco.

Four large American studies have estimated that 44 per cent of youth smoking is caused by smoking exposure in movies. If we apply these results to Canada, 130,000 young people became addicted to tobacco because of smoking in movies. Of those, 43,000 will eventually die of tobacco-related diseases.

So what can we do? The vast majority of movies we watch in Canada come from the U.S. But there’s a growing movement to stop smoking in movies that spans the border. Smoke Free Movies and Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada suggest rating new movies with depictions of smoking as 18A. They’d also like movie producers to certify that no one involved in the movie benefited from smoking or displaying a tobacco brand in the film. Changes like these need public support to happen. We can make a start by simply noticing how often smoking occurs in the movies we’re watching. But try not to spill your popcorn!

For more information check out the Smoke Free Movies website at

Trish Hill is a senior tobacco reduction co-ordinator with Interior Health.

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