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Smoking in Movies: How Does It Affect Teens?

Youth who are exposed to images of smoking in movies are more likely to smoke.

A long-time sober friend and I were exiting a 12-step meeting a few weeks ago and caught a whiff of cigarette smoke exhaled by a passerby. “Ya know,” I said, “I still crave cigarettes, even though I quit almost three decades ago.”

He agreed. “Yeah, I started smoking when I was 12. When I finally quit 15 years ago, I’d turned 40 and had a ridiculous amount of health problems. It always looked so glamourous in those old Hollywood movies. It still does and I still want to smoke.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report about tobacco use in top-grossing movies during the years 2010 through 2016. “Reducing tobacco use in youth-related movies could help prevent the initiation of tobacco use among young persons,” said the report. And, although it found less smoking in G and PG movies since 2010, tobacco use in PG-13-rated top-grossing films has increased 43% since 2010.

The Surgeon General website states, “Youth who are exposed to images of smoking in movies are more likely to smoke. Those who get the most exposure to onscreen smoking are about twice as likely to begin smoking as those who get the least exposure.” The SG has concluded that there is a causal relationship between smoking in the movies and “the initiation of smoking among young persons.” America’s leading health organizations are now demanding that all movie producers and distributors slap an R rating onto films that show smoking onscreen. Interestingly, they’ve indicated a possible exception for movies based on historical figures.

It would be odd to watch a flick about Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, or Lyndon B. Johnson without showing a single cigarette. And can you imagine Winston Churchill without a cigar? On January 8, actor Gary Oldman won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Churchill in the PG-13-rated film, “Darkest Hour.” During his acceptance speech Oldman thanked co-star Kristin Scott Thomas “for putting up with all of those awful cigars.”

But who will decide when it’s necessary to include smoking in order to portray history accurately? When will it matter enough for those in the entertainment business to risk receiving an R rating and losing millions at the box office? And doesn’t this idea of sanitizing films reek of censorship?

Well, does it reek of censorship? Read some more thoughts on how smoking could affect movie ratings — and how that could possibly affect youth and smoking — in the original article Can Movie Ratings Really Stop Teens from Smoking? at The Fix.

Smoking in Movies: How Does It Affect Teens?

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). Smoking in Movies: How Does It Affect Teens?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Jan 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.