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U of T public health researchers say it’s time to stamp out smoking in movies

Estimated 29,000 will die prematurely as a result of tobacco imagery in films

(photo by DukDigital via Flickr)

Smoking in movies is one of the last vestiges of tobacco promotion. It accounts for 37 per cent of youth smoking uptake.

In recognition of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit (OTRU) at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health released a report, Exposure to On-Screen Tobacco in Movies Among Ontario Youth, 2004-2013.

The report examines the extent of exposure to movies with tobacco imagery among Ontario youth. The research team, led by Robert Schwartz, executive director of OTRU, examined the number of incidents of on-screen smoking in movies released from 2004 to 2013 and estimated the impact of exposure to on-screen tobacco on youth smoking.

“I strongly recommend that movies with tobacco imagery require adult ratings to reduce youth smoking uptake,” said Schwartz, referring to a policy measure recommended by public health stakeholders and institutions provincially, nationally and internationally. Schwartz is also an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and senior scientist at the Centre for Addition and Mental Health.

Of the 1,434 top-grossing movies released in theatres from 2004 to 2013, 57 per cent featured on-screen tobacco, of which 86 per cent were rated for youth in Ontario. Ontario youth still had higher chances of exposure to in-theatre tobacco than their U.S counterparts because more tobacco incidents were depicted in Ontario youth-rated movies.

Over the seven-year study, it is estimated that 92,000 current smokers in Ontario aged 12 to 17 picked up smoking after watching smoking in movies. Of these new smokers, OTRU estimates that 29,000 will die prematurely as a result of tobacco imagery in movies.

For more information and to read the full report, visit the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit website. 

Nicole Bodnar is a writer with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.