Update: Data shows smoking is decreasing in Hollywood movies


First of all, I have to post a “sort of” correction, even though I’m not convinced yet I was completely wrong.

According to this group called “Smokefree Movies,” which is based out of San Francisco State University, which means my hero and longtime anti-tobacco advocate Stanton Glantz is involved, there IS smoking in the film version of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Between 10-and 29 instances, in fact. Darned if I remember any smoking scenes, but again, I’d have to watch the movie again to confirm that. Perhaps the old Soviet and CIA guys smoke. I think the old CIA guy might have been chomping a cigar. I tweaked my earlier post to reflect this new information I stumbled on.

(EDITOR’s NOTE: According to a friend who watched the movie again in response to my post … she confirmed that there doesn’t appear to be any smoking in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, so I have no idea what Smokefree Movies is talking about.)

Anyway, it was pretty interesting timing coming upon this article just as I posted a story about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This story from the Smokefree Movies project confirms that the 7-year-old MPAA policy to discourage smoking in PG-13 movies, while not perfect and definitely not ideal, is in fact, having an effect.

Augustus, a cancer patient, in “The Fault In Our Stars” has a cigarette continually dangling from his mouth throughout the film but he never actually lights it.

According to Smokefree Movies, the number of films that contained “tobacco imagery” (Not necessarily smoking, but “tobacco imagery”), was about 105 in 2007, the year before new MPAA policy that went into effect threatening (threatening, but not requiring) an R-rating for smoking scenes in PG-13 movies. That number included more than 50 PG-13 and younger-rated movies.

In 2008, that number quickly dropped to less than 90, though the number of PG-13 movies that had smoking went up slightly. In 2009, the effect of the MPAA policy really started being seen. There were about 75 movies that had tobacco imagery, and about 41 one of them were rated for PG-13 or younger.

In 2010, it even got better, with about 61 movies total with tobacco imagery and only 26-28 in PG-13 movies. Frustratingly, that number crept up a bit over the next couple of years, but according to SF State, in 2015, the number of movies with tobacco imagery was about 70 total, with about 30 of those in PG-13 movies. That’s a decrease overall of 33 percent and over 40 percent for PG-13 movies.

Again, I don’t know what the term “tobacco imagery” means exactly. but the policy means there’s been a serious decrease in tobacco imagery in films (both overall and in PG-13 films) since 2007. Man, that’s a big step forward.

Keep in mind, even though supposedly the tobacco industry was no longer paying Hollywood studios a dime after 1998 for including tobacco products in movies, the rate of tobacco imagery in movies actually went UP between 2002 and 2007. So, Hollywood was giving the tobacco industry all sorts of free advertising without collecting a dime in return. What a bunch of shmoes!

Here’s where I might take exception with the term “tobacco imagery,” and maybe why i didn’t notice smoking in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Here is a list of films that contain tobacco imagery. One of those films is “The Fault In Our Stars.”

I have to disagree with SF State on this one. “The Fault In Our Stars” has more than 50 instances of tobacco imagery listed. In this film, a teenager battling cancer keeps a cigarette dangling in his mouth as a specific message — the message being, and I’m quoting from the movie:

“They don’t kill you unless you light them. And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.”

So, the character in the film never once lights a cigarette and uses them to remind himself that cancer is death, cigarettes are death, and that cancer has no power over him if he chooses not to let it have power over him by not lighting the cigarette. I think that’s touching, a bit unfair by SF State to include that. There is such a thing as context. Trust me, when I first saw images of a teenager apparently smoking from this film, I was plenty outraged .. until I read up on the context.

Anyway, a really interesting update to my post the other day and I’m sure I will see “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” again to confirm how right or how close I was in my earlier post. Smoking scenes in films ares down roughly 33 percent from eight years ago, and, more importantly, down over 40 percent in PG-13 films. (More importantly to me, because yeah, I still believe in artistic freedom for the most part and if people want to have smoking characters in movies, that’s their prerogative and I sincerely have no problem with it … I just think they should be prepared for an R-rating.)