Tobacco in Media
And the Oscar Goes to…

And the Oscar Goes to…

And the Oscar goes to…Tobacco. Unfortunately, tobacco imagery continues to dominate the films nominated for the Academy Awards. Under the direction of our partner Truth Initiative, Breathe’s Smoke-free Screens youth coded 39 Oscar-nominated films. According to the Truth Initiative’s analysis of the total 39 Oscar-nominated films screened, 28 nominations contained tobacco imagery, or 71.7%   In spite of efforts of many organizations working in tobacco control to call for filmmakers and producers to reduce or eliminate tobacco imagery from films, tobacco imagery is up from last year. In the Best Picture category alone, 90% of nominees contained tobacco imagery, a 10% increase from last years’ nominees in this category. The upward trend of tobacco in box office hits is cause for concern as the big tobacco companies are still finding ways to infiltrate media and expose youth to their products, on a mass scale.

Oscar-nominated films with tobacco imagery were popular amongst youth. Both films including the sequel to the classic “Top Gun: Maverick” and the life of world renown singer, “Elvis” contained an overwhelming amount of tobacco depictions with glamorization messaging. The glamorization of tobacco distorts the reality and harms of tobacco use. Tobacco depicted in films portrays the norm that tobacco use is more common than it is and rarely depicts the negative effects of tobacco use. Viewers are left with the impression that tobacco use may seem cool, normal, harmless, and desirable. Although both films contain prolific tobacco imagery, there is no deterrence for youth to steer clear of these smokey films due to their PG-13 ratings. Of the nominations that contained tobacco imagery, seven were rated PG-13 and one rated PG.

Why do we find it so concerning to see tobacco imagery flooding popular films? For over a decade, the film industry and tobacco industry have known that exposure to smoking in movies may cause young people to start using tobacco, a conclusion reached in a 2012 Surgeon General report. Despite this knowledge and further research in recent years by the Truth Initiative establishing that exposure to tobacco imagery in popular streaming and TV shows can triple a young person’s odds of starting to vape, tobacco imagery in film is as prominent as ever. The tobacco industry understands how impactful film is as a marketing tool for their products and has known this for decades. Film as a marketing tool was pitched to tobacco giant RJ Reynolds in 1972 emphasizing that “film is far better than any commercial that has been run on television or in any magazine, because the audience is totally unaware of any sponsor involvement”. Due to the work of Breathe’s Smoke-Free Screens youth movie reviewers and the work by the Truth Initiative and other organizations, the audience is no longer unaware of involvement of tobacco industry presence and sponsors and work is being done to reduce tobacco imagery on screens. The overwhelming amount of tobacco imagery embedded in Oscar-nominated hits that are viewed by youth at an alarming rate is an indication that the work is far from over. The call to action against tobacco imagery in youth rated films so far has received limited acknowledgement or action from Hollywood. Breathe is proud to hold space for our youth movie reviewers to participate in data collection projects and give youth the voice, education, and opportunities to stand up to the tobacco industry and shape their own futures.

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