Smoking in Movies and TV

Anti-smoking spots used to run among previews in Florida movie theatres, until the Legislature cut the funding. The State of Florida also ran effective anti-tobacco TV spots and billboard ads, and they launched a huge tobacco education campaign in schools, with special teachers and materials. The Truth logo was used consistently in every division of the overall campaign.

By 2003, Florida’s well funded tobacco education program had helped bring about a phenomenal 50% reduction in middle school smoking, and a 35% reduction in high school smoking!

While it was well-funded, the Florida Tobacco Control Program, based in Tallahassee, was an extraordinary success. Financed by the settlement of Florida’s lawsuit against the tobacco companies, the trailers they ran in movie theaters were only part of the campaign.

Tobaccofree Earth supports the concept of running more such ads in movie theatres in other States.

Placing cigarette brands in films

Just a few years ago, some producers in Hollywood would take large payments from the tobacco companies, just to place cigarette brands in films.

The producers of License to Kill took a $350,000 payment to have James Bond smoke Larks in the movie — and of course, James Bond is a role model for young boys.

In Superman II, woman reporter Lois Lane, a nonsmoker in the comics, chain-smoked Marlboros, and the Marlboro brand name appeared some 40 times in the film. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris paid a mere $40,000 to the producers for this. Of course, Lois Lane is a role model for young girls.

Sylvester Stallone took a $500,000 payment from one tobacco company to smoke their brand in three of his films.

Phillip Morris even placed its products in, astoundingly, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Muppet Movie.

These are just the documented cases. There are doubtless many more which will never come to light.

Hollywood swears that it has stopped placing cigarette brands in films — but we know of one instance in which a tobacco company helped finance a film, and then put its products prominently in it. U.S. Tobacco, which makes most of the chewing tobacco, had a movie production division which made a movie, Pure Country, in which handsome, good-old-boy cowboys chew. Fortunately, it bombed, to the relief of anti-smoking advocates.

There have been more recent reports of cigar companies paying to promote cigars in films. Movie stars have done a great deal to help popularize cigars, such as Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Pierce Brosnan, all appeared on the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine. These stars’ use of cigars makes a powerful statement which is not lost on teens as they browse through the nation’s magazine racks. Cigars cause mouth and throat cancer, as well as poisoning the air with extraong second hand smoke.

This excellent group is devoted to the problem of smoking in movies. They have done some very credible, major studies which prove that smoking in films really does influence young people to begin smoking.

The group was launched in March, 2001, and it has successfully created widespread awareness within the Hollywood community that smoking by stars significantly increases teen smoking rates. It was funded by a $12 million initial grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, at the suggestion of anti-smoking activist Stan Glantz of UCSF. The group’s web url is

December 27, 2001
Summary of article in the San Francisco Chronicle
Author: Carla Meyer

Gene Hackman and Gwyneth Paltrow leave a trail of butts in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Meg Ryan gets cut off mid-drag in “Kate and Leopold,” Cameron Diaz shows her badness by lighting up in “Vanilla Sky” and Sissy Spacek uses cigarettes to cope in “In the Bedroom.”

Smoking onscreen is on the rise after tapering off in the 1970s and 1980s, according to professor Stanton Glantz and his UCSF colleagues, who studied movie smoking from the 1960s through 2000. Their research, which they recently updated, found that the rate of smoking in films, as compared with that of the general population, has reached levels resembling those of the early ’60s, before the U.S. surgeon general’s office issued its landmark 1964 report linking tobacco to early death.

More specifically, movie leads these days are four times more likely to smoke than their real-life counterparts. Whereas the lead characters who smoke often are wealthy and successful, says Glantz, “people who smoke in the ! real world tend to be poor, poorly educated people.”

The reasons for the increase are unclear. . .

“You hear this sort of film noir period-piece argument, but in a lot of those (’40s noir movies), people were being paid to smoke,” he says. “People say, ‘I need the smoking in order to be accurate.’ But they aren’t making documentaries. It’s a cop-out.” Though “The Majestic” takes place in the early ’50s, it features only trace amounts of tobacco — James Whitmore sucking on a pipe that seems more an accessory than an addiction feeder.

Perhaps not coincidentally, “The Majestic” was made by Rob Reiner’s Castle Rock production company. Reiner, a fierce anti-smoking activist, expressed dismay when an earlier Castle Rock film, “Proof of Life,” featured Meg Ryan smoking. . .

While these portrayals are hardly glamorous, Glantz says they do damage anyway.

“Any use of tobacco in the movies promotes tobacco use among kids,” says Glantz

November, 1997
Good Morning America

In a November, ’97 segment of Good Morning America, advocate Patrick Reynolds debated director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) about smoking in films. The segment has been sent to many schools, as an educational video. In it Reynolds pointed out that John Travolta has smoked in every film he’d appeared in recently. He was also critical of Julia Roberts for her smoking in My Best Friend’s Wedding, as well as the cute little alien creatures in Men In Black, who smoked and made it look funny, cute and cool.

In the same Good Morning America segment, Reynolds said to Mr. Sonnenfeld, “It’s hypocritical for stars to make lofty acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards, and then forget all those high ethics and moral standards when actually making films. That’s what happens when they allow their screen characters to glamorize smoking. Stars need to be reminded how much youth look up to them, and that they are role models for millions of kids, and idolized by many.”

It’s simple: if stars make responsible choices, young people will copy them.

In a 1990’s People magazine article, anti-smoking advocates including Reynolds pointed out that Winona Rider and Ethan Hawke had glamorized smoking in Reality Bytes and in other films. Perhaps she will think twice before making smoking look cool to millions of teens around the world in her future films.

Summary of article in The Lancet, Jan 4, 2001


Findings: More than 85% of films contained tobacco use.

Tobacco brands appeared in 70 (28%) films. Brand appearances were as common in films suitable for adolescent audiences as they were in films for adult audiences (32 vs 35%), and were also present in 20% of those rated for children. Prevalence of brand appearance did not change overall in relation to the ban.

However, there was a striking increase in the type of brand appearance depicted, with actor endorsement increasing from 1% of films before the ban to 11% after. Four US cigarette brands accounted for 80% of brand appearances. Revenues outside the USA accounted for 49% of total revenues for these films, indicating a large international audience.


Tobacco-brand appearances are common in films and are becoming increasingly endorsed by actors. The most highly advertised US cigarette brands account for most brand appearances, which suggests an advertising motive to this practice.

Note: “Ban” refers to a self- imposed film industry ban and also the 1998 tobacco industry lawsuit settlements, which prohibit tobacco companies from paying to have their products appear in films

The Lancet (Jan 4, 2001)

Full Text of article:

OR arch.14762.1
by James D Sargent, Jennifer J Tickle. Michael L Beach, Madeline A Dalton, M Bridget Ahrens, Todd F Heatherton , Category: Society: Movies

Summary of article in the Bloomberg News (Jan 5, 2001):


Movie actors are smoking more often in films — with brand names prominent — though a self- imposed ban and industry lawsuit settlements prohibit tobacco companies from paying to have their products appear in films, a new study showed.

“I can’t tell you as a scientist why we are seeing more actor endorsements but we do know that having a famous person endorse a product is effective,” said M. Bridget Ahrens, one of the researchers from Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Efforts to restrict tobacco advertising and the use of brand- name products in films aren’t having a significant impact, the study found. The researchers suggested a complete ban on tobacco brand appearances in films and an investigation into the increasing number of endorsements.

“We don’t have any proof of how the cigarettes got there — be it clandestine payments, free samples to a particular set designer, or an actor who just happens to smoke that brand,” Ahrens said. “But now that we see it and we know what the effect is, we need to answer the question of why it is there.”

The study will appear in tomorrow’s medical journal Lancet. The most-advertised cigarettes in the U.S. also appeared most frequently in actors’ hands, the researchers said. Philip Morris Inc.’s Marlboro brand was seen in 40 percent of the movies; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc.’s Winston, in 17 percent; Camel, in 11 percent, and British American Tobacco Plc’s Lucky Strike, in 12 percent.

Bloomberg News (Jan 5, 2001)

Full Text:

by Michelle Fay Cortez / (360) 293-4983, or, Category: Society: Movies


From: Professor Stan Glantz, University of California at San Francisco, Press office

Advocates can call to request an e-mailed copy of the study.

Contact:  Jeffrey Norris or Alice Trinkl, News Director
Tel: (415) 476-2557

The incidence of smoking in top-grossing movies has increased during the 1990s, and dramatically exceeds real smoking rates, according to a new study led by a prominent tobacco researcher from the University of California San Francisco.

After declining over three decades, smoking in movies has returned to levels comparable to those observed in the 1960s before the issuance of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health in 1964, according to Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at UCSF with the Institute for Health Policy Studies and the Division of Cardiology.

The report by Glantz and Theresa F. Stockwell, who conducted the research as part of a master’s degree project, appears in the new issue of Tobacco Control, a scientific journal published by the British Medical Association. The presentation of smoking in films remains pro-tobacco, according to Stockwell and Glantz, with only 14 percent of tobacco screen-time presenting adverse social or health effects of tobacco use.

The researchers found that in movies from the 1960s, tobacco was used about once for every five minutes of film time.  In films from the 1970s and 1980s, tobacco was used about once every 10 to 15 minutes, but in movies from the 1990s, tobacco was used an average of every three to five minutes, according to the researchers.

“The use of tobacco in films is increasing and is reinforcing  misleading images that present smoking as a widespread and socially desirable activity,” according to Glantz and Stockwell.  “These portrayals may encourage teenagers — the major movie audience — to smoke. “Films continue to present the smoker as one who is typically white, male, middle class, successful and attractive, a movie hero who takes smoking for granted,” the researchers report.  “As in tobacco advertising, tobacco use in the movies is associated with youthful vigor, good health, good looks, and personal and professional acceptance.

“Portrayals of tobacco use, whether in a positive or negative context, lead to changes in attitudes that predispose children to smoking.  In an era in which the tobacco industry is finding traditional advertising media increasingly restricted, the appearance of tobacco use in motion pictures is an important mechanism to promote and reinforce tobacco use, particularly among young people,” they report.

To conduct the study, Glantz and Stockwell randomly selected for analysis five films from among the 20 leading moneymakers for each year from 1990 to 1996.  In the movies sampled, 57 percent of leading characters smoked, compared to just 14 percent of similar people in the general population. In the films from 1991 through 1996, 80 percent of the male leads smoked.

In an earlier study Glantz analyzed two films from among the 20 most popular films every year for the years 1960 through 1990.  After comparing the two studies the researchers concluded that the socioeconomic status of smokers in movies has increased dramatically during the 1990s compared to earlier decades, despite the fact that smoking in real life is more common among lower social classes.

Among characters who smoked, 55 percent were from a lower socioeconomic class in the randomly selected movies from the 1960s, compared to 54 percent in the 1970s, 58 percent in the 1980s, and just 21 percent in the 1990s.  The percentage of movie smokers who were middle class was 19 percent in 1960s movies, 25 percent in 1970s movies, 25 percent in 1980 movies, but jumped to 49 percent in 1990s movies.  The percentage of upper class smokers in the sampled movies was 26 percent in the 1960s, 21 percent in the 1970s, 17 percent in the 1980s, and rose to 30 percent in the 1990s.

The reason for the increasing incidence of smoking in films is not clear, Glantz says.

During the 1980s, the tobacco industry was paying substantial fees for product placement, Glantz and Stockwell point out, but the Tobacco Institute claims that payment for specific brand placement in films has ended. Glantz and Stockwell found that brand identification decreased during the 1990s.

Glantz and Stockwell argue that strong anti-tobacco advertisements should be aired by movie theaters prior to the screening of any film that portrays smoking, and that movie producers should require everyone connected to the making of a film to certify that they are not receiving money or gifts for the use of tobacco in films.

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