Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Teen Smoking Unconnected to Cinematic Smoking

In a July report (here), the CDC Office on Smoking and Health asserted the following about tobacco use in movies:

“The Surgeon General has concluded that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young persons.”

“…the decline in the total number of tobacco incidents [in top-grossing movies] has not progressed since 2010.”

“Reducing tobacco incidents that appear in youth-related movies would prevent the initiation of tobacco use among young persons.”

“An R rating for movies with tobacco use could potentially reduce the number of teen smokers by 18%...”

Responding, Guy Bentley published an excellent commentary noting that any connection between smoking in movies and among teens is illusory (here).  I provide statistical evidence of this by analyzing the CDC report’s numbers together with smoking prevalence rates among high school seniors for the same years.  The resulting chart fails to support any of the above claims. 

The number of tobacco incidents per year in top-grossing movies varied from 1,600 to 3,300 over 25 years, 1991-2016, except for a couple years around 2005.  Smoking among high school seniors plummeted continuously after 1996.  There appears to be no connection between the two data sets.

The report clearly lacks objectivity.  It was authored by CDC staffer Michael Tynan; Jonathan Polansky, founder of the advocacy firm Onbeyond and creator of the Smokefree Movies campaign (here); Kori Titus and Renata Atayeva from Breathe California Sacramento Region (here), an organization that “…has been fighting for…tobacco-free communities [otherwise known as prohibition] since 1917…”; and Stanton Glantz, faculty member of the University of California, San Francisco, and long-time tobacco opponent.  Polansky, Titus and Glantz acknowledge grant support from the Truth Initiative as their only conflict of interest.

Note that the tobacco incident numbers were collected by “Youth volunteers between the ages of 14-22… trained to analyze tobacco content in films…Their data is posted weekly on our sister website and is used by university-level researchers and public health professionals across the globe….”  This underlying data does not appear to be publicly available.  The link to SceneSmoking was not functional and redirected to Breathe California Sacramento. 


1 comment:

Unknown said...

It is worth remarking that very conservative religious folks also express concern for displaying homosexuality in films accessible to young audiences. They warn that seeing nice friendly characters that are Gay could "influence" young immature minds and lead them to a miserable life of promiscuous behavior. The same conservative religious approach to smoking by campaigners for Smokefree Movies is impossible to disguise, even if the well known California professor invokes science.