August 24, 2011

Government Subsidies To Film Industry Expose Youth To Smoking


Researchers found that governments are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into major motion pictures that depict smoking.

The study found that those subsidies, along with government inaction on stricter ratings for movies that depict smoking, also promote youth smoking and undermine anti-tobacco programs.

About 70 percent of all released PG-13 movies in California subsidized under the state's program depict smoking, according to the research.

"California's state film subsidy program is undermining its longstanding tobacco control efforts," lead author Stanton Glantz, PhD, UCSF professor of medicine and director of the Smoke Free Movies Project based at UCSF, said in a press release. "These activities never made sense, but are even more remarkable at a time when health and education programs are being slashed."

"In addition to ending subsidies for films that promote smoking, modernizing the rating system to give smoking films an R rating will provide a market incentive for producers to keep smoking out of movies that they market to adolescents."

The researchers said 40 states in the U.S. offer a combined $1.3 billion in film and video "production incentives" to the film industry. 

"These grants, commonly in the form of tax credits, cover 25 percent of Hollywood's day-to-day production costs," the study said. "TV series and undistributed low-budget film also draw from the subsidy pool."

California has provided film subsidies since 2009, and a bill is currently pending that would extend a state subsidy of $500 million for an additional five years.

Health groups and the Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee have urged that the bill be amended to make future film and TV productions with tobacco imagery or branding ineligible.

Previous studies estimated that exposure to on-screen smoking accounts for 44 percent of all adolescent smokers in the U.S., with over a million teens around the country smoking.

Over half of the movies in the U.S. are rated "R" for reasons like violence or sexual content, meaning they cannot be marketed directly to youth.

However, according to the researchers, most of the movies in Canada and the U.K. are rated as appropriate for teens or children due to having more permissive attitudes towards language and sex.  The team says this relaxed attitude towards film ratings exposes youth to more onscreen smoking, leading more Canadian and British youths to start smoking.

The World Health Organization and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that future films that have smoking be given an adult rating in the U.S.

The study was published in the journal PLoS Medicine.


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