You are here » Home » Background

Why is a project on smoking in movies important?

Film portrayals of smoking are often used to signal that a character is cool, rebellious or sophisticated. Negative images or health consequences of smoking are rarely shown. Recent studies have suggested that such depictions have a strong influence on young viewers.

For example, associations have been found between seeing films which include smoking and an over-estimation of population smoking rates and more positive attitudes towards smoking. More importantly, some studies have found a strong relationship between the amount of smoking adolescents see in films and initiation of smoking (Sargent et al., 2001; Dalton et al., 2003).

Similarly, seeing alcohol use in films is associated with early drinking (Hanewinkel et al, 2007) and with heavy drinking in older Scottish adolescents (Hunt et al, 2011.

Most of this research has been carried out in the USA. However, films from the USA are widely viewed in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

How do studies measure how much smoking or drinking an adolescent has seen in films?

Each adolescent is asked to indicate which films they have seen from a unique list of 50 films. These lists are randomly selected for each individual from a larger sample of recent top box office hits. Each randomly generated list of 50 titles has the same distribution of ratings for age appropriateness ('U', 'PG', '12', etc) as the total sample of box-office hits.

Each film has been carefully watched by trained coders who have noted the number of occurrences of smoking and alcohol in each film.

This means it is possible to estimate the total number of occurrences of smoking and drinking seen for each respondent, based on the particular films they report having watched.

This method is often referred to as the Beach Method after the statistician who devised it.

Where can I find out more?

In addition to academic publications such as those noted above, easy-to-digest information is available in the Screen Out! guide which can be found on the US Smoke Free Movies website.