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Legacy: 44 Percent Of Adolescents Who Start Smoking Do So Because Of Smoking Images They Have Seen In The Movies

One Familiar Letter - R - Could Dramatically Reduce Youth Smoking

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As viewers around the world prepare to tune in for Sunday's 86th annual Academy Awards honoring achievements in the film industry, the public health community is drawing attention to new data concluding that by eliminating tobacco imagery in youth-rated movies, youth smoking rates could decline by an estimated 18 percent.

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Incidents of smoking in youth-rated films have doubled between 2010 and 2012, returning to levels of a decade ago. In fact, according to Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! two of the three PG-13 movies (Captain Phillips, Philomena) that are nominated for Best Picture this year include smoking. Large-scale studies have demonstrated that movies with smoking cause youth to start smoking, and this rebound represents a set-back for national youth tobacco prevention goals.

According to research funded by Legacy, in 2013 youth-rated movies delivered an estimated 14.8billion tobacco impressions to theater audiences, a 169 percent increase from 2010. (Impressions are tobacco incidents multiplied by number of tickets sold per film.) Actions that would eliminate the depiction of tobacco use in movies, which are produced and rated as appropriate for children and adolescents, could have a significant effect on preventing youth from becoming tobacco users.

Released in January, the US Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health warned that unless we increase the efforts we know work and continue to utilize new ones, 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking. The report also found that, "youth who are exposed to images of smoking in the movies are more likely to smoke; those who get the most exposure to onscreen smoking are about twice as likely to begin smoking as those who get the least exposure."

"As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's report on tobacco, it is time we prevent kids from being bombarded by images of smoking in the movies," said Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services. "Reducing smoking and tobacco use in youth-oriented movies will help save lives, money, and years of suffering from preventable smoking-related chronic diseases."

Tobacco remains the number 1 preventable cause of death in this country, impacting millions of families, hurting communities and costing the nation more than $289 Billion each year.  The problem of smoking in movies is a top public health priority, as the U.S. Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have all emphasized the importance of reducing youth exposure to on-screen smoking.   

Cigarette advertising has been banned on television and radio since 1970, when Congress passed The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act. Yet, smoking imagery remains widespread in movies including movies with large youth audiences. Despite restrictions on tobacco advertising to youth, young people are still exposed to frequent, and often glamorous smoking imagery, which in turn influences them to model the behavior of actors and celebrities.

"Every major Hollywood studio has proven in the past that they can eliminate smoking from PG and PG-13 movies," said David Dobbins, Chief Operating Officer at Legacy. "It is time for these studios to step up and protect young audiences permanently through the use of a uniform, industry-wide R rating policy for all movies that depict smoking."

Every day in the United States approximately 3,200 youth under 18 smoke their first cigarette, and more than 900 become daily cigarette smokers. Movies may be more powerful than traditional tobacco ads. The more smoking that youth see in movies, the more likely they are to smoke. This explosion in on-screen smoking puts hundreds of thousands of young Americans at risk of addiction, disease and premature death.

"It's time for the Motion Picture Association of America to accept the overwhelming evidence that onscreen smoking causes kids to smoke and modernizes its rating system to award an R-rating to movies that depict smoking," said Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "That would reverse the increases in smoking imagery in the movies rated for youth and prevent thousands of more kids from starting to smoke," Glantz added.

Legacy helps people live longer, healthier lives by building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Legacy's proven-effective and nationally recognized public education programs include truth®, the national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as contributing to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. Located in Washington, D.C., the foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. To learn more about Legacy's life-saving programs, visit

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