Televised movie trailers expose youth to images of tobacco use

Despite a ban on tobacco advertising on television, nearly all U.S. children age 12 to 17 years may have been exposed to tobacco use through movie advertisements televised in 2001 to 2002, according to an article in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Tobacco advertising was banned from television in 1971, but tobacco use is still portrayed in a variety of forms on television, including movie advertisements or trailers. "Trailers pair tobacco use with popular movie stars and edgy action shots," the authors write. "These images translate into positive images of tobacco that are conveyed to a broad audience, including a large population younger than 18 years." Studies have shown that most movies released in the United States contain images of smoking, including about half of those with PG or G ratings, according to background information in the article. Surveys of children and adolescents indicate that they are more likely to smoke if their favorite movie stars do, and that watching movies in which characters smoke can have an immediate effect on their attitudes toward smoking.

Cheryl G. Healton, Dr.P.H., American Legacy Foundation, Washington, D.C., and colleagues studied all 216 movie trailers that aired in the United States from August 2001 through July 2002. They first analyzed the full-length versions of all the trailers to determine whether they included images of tobacco use. They then obtained viewer information from Nielson Media Research, the primary source of U.S. television ratings, to determine the population exposed to each trailer.

Of the 216 trailers, 31 (14.4 percent) depicted tobacco use, including 23 (24 percent) of trailers for R-rated movies and eight (7.5 percent) of those for PG- and PG-13–rated movies. The Nielson data estimage that 95 percent of all young people age 12 to 17 years saw at least one movie trailer with images of tobacco use during this one-year period, with 89 percent seeing at least one of the trailers three or more times. Over the course of a year, these trailers were seen 270 million times among youth age 12 to 17 years--or about 111 times per youth, on average.

The authors suggest that public health officials call on the movie industry to eliminate depictions of tobacco use in movie trailers, as well as pressure television networks to refuse to air trailers that contain such imagery. Future research should also address other avenues by which young people are exposed to tobacco use on television, the authors conclude.

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Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:885-888.

Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: This study was supported by the American Legacy Foundation and a grant from the National Cancer Institute. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312/464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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