Drinking and smoking scenes are still sneaking into big movies

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Movies are still featuring scenes of drinking and smoking, including those aimed at children or in those made in countries where product placement of tobacco is illegal.

Researchers compared 800 successful box office films made in Europe and the Americas and found that at least 75% had alcohol and more than half had smoking scenes.

Those films made outside the US are more likely to show characters smoking on screen than those produced in Hollywood, according to research published in the open access journal BMCPublic Health.

Previous research has shown that exposure to tobacco use in movies promotes smoking in young people. In 1997 the US banned paid product placement of tobacco but in many other countries similar regulations are not in place.

The researchers from the US, Mexico, Argentina and Germany compared 502 US films with 337 nationally-produced films from six European countries and two Latin American countries.

All the films were produced between 2004 and 2009 and were commercially successful based on box office earnings.

Icelandic films had the highest percentage of tobacco use with all youth-rated films featuring smoking.

The Netherlands had the lowest percentage, with 53% of youth-rated films showing characters smoking.

Only Argentine films portrayed smoking on screen for a longer time than in US films.

James Thrasher, from the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, says it doesn’t matter where the films are made, whether in Europe or the Americas, the presence of tobacco and alcohol is high.

“Even in countries where tobacco industry payment for product placement is prohibited by law, more than half of films contain tobacco,” he says.

“No country we studied has implemented policies to reduce alcohol use in films, and alcohol use is universally high across all films.”

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