Cigarettes still have featured role in most films
NEW YORK, Feb 29 (Reuters Health) -- It's every actor's dream to light up the silver screen. But a study of five recent movies suggests that many film characters are lighting up on screen as well. Researchers have found that in the 1990s, 38% of male film
The study authors note that these rates are much higher than the current national rates for smoking -- with female film characters smoking at a rate nearly 50% higher than the 24% rate found in US women between the ages of 18 and 44 who smoke. Male characters smoke at a rate nearly 25% higher than the 29% of US men in the same age range who smoke.
``The tobacco industry used to pay Hollywood for strategic 'placement' of smoking images in popular movies... (and) although the industry claims to have stopped this practice, Hollywood filmmakers appear to continue to depict smoking at much higher levels than occur in the general population,'' study co-author Dr. Ichiro Kawachi of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, told Reuters Health.
Kawachi and colleagues analyzed 50 films released between 1993 and 1997. Totaling 96 hours of footage, the team divided each of the films into 5-minute intervals and recorded the number of smoking episodes within each interval. The films were chosen to include a performance by one of the 10 leading Hollywood actresses of 1997, as determined by calculating and ranking the number of article mentions each actress received in the five most popular magazines read by women aged 18 to 24 -- including ``Cosmopolitan,'' ``Glamour,'' ``Vogue,'' ``Vanity Fair,'' and ``Rolling Stone.''
Noting actual smoking levels as well the presence of tobacco products and implied smoking behavior -- including holding an unlit cigarette -- the researchers found that of the 10 actresses studied, smoking scenes were four times more common in films that featured younger actresses compared with older ones, according to the report published in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The authors also noted that female actors were just as likely to smoke in PG and PG-13 rated films aimed at young audiences as they were in mature-audience R-rated features, whereas male actors were 2.5 times more likely to smoke in R-rated films.
Kawachi and his team also explored the social context for depictions of smoking, finding that women were often displayed using tobacco products to convey sex appeal, emotional control, power, body-image control, and comfort. Men smoked to portray masculinity, power, prestige, authority, male bonding, and their role as protector.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Kawachi said that since ''popular Hollywood actresses are important role models for young American girls... it was surprising and disappointing to find that a sample of the 10 most popular actresses smoked... at nearly twice the rate of smoking in the actual adult US population.''
Kawachi expressed concern about the vulnerability of young children -- and young women in particular -- in the face of glamorous images of smoking, since studies have shown that over 70% of smokers form the habit before the age of 18. In that light, he added that ``another surprise was that movies aimed at younger audiences (PG/PG-13) were much less likely to carry negative messages about cigarette smoking than those directed at mature audiences.''
Kawachi suggested that to address these problems, ``popular Hollywood actresses could do much to influence the health habits of girls in positive ways'' -- by acknowledging their role model status while resisting stereotypical depictions of smoking behavior in their work.