Seven years after tobacco companies signed the Master Settlement Agreement prohibiting them from paying for tobacco brand appearances in movies, the number of tobacco brand appearances in PG-13 rated movies has not experienced a statistically significant decrease, according to a study by Dartmouth Medical School researchers.
The research, published in the May 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), analyzed the number of tobacco brand appearances in 400 movies released before the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) (1996-1999) and 400 movies released after it was signed (2000-2003) and found that overall, there was a marked decline in the number of tobacco brand appearances in R-rated movies in the wake of the agreement. But almost 1 in 8 movies geared toward adolescent audiences with a rating of PG-13 continue to feature tobacco brands, which was not a significant change since the agreement was enacted at the end of 1998.
"The ratings piece was a big surprise," said lead author Dr. Anna Adachi-Mejia, instructor in pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School and a member of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. "Although we saw an overall decline, the percentage of PG-13 movies with tobacco brands didn't decrease post-MSA. That's worrisome because part of the intent of the MSA was to reduce tobacco advertising directed towards youth, and our study demonstrates that tobacco brands are still appearing in films rated for adolescents."
The number of movies with tobacco brand appearances (defined in the study as the depiction of a tobacco brand name, logo, or identifiable trademark) dropped from 20.8% to 10.5% of top box-office films after the agreement took effect. However, this decrease was not consistent across the ratings spectrum, as the percentage of R-rated movies with tobacco brand appearances decreased by 55.4% (29.8% to 13.3%) after 1999, whereas, the slight decrease in the percentage of PG-13 movies with tobacco brand appearances (15.0% to 11.8%) was not statistically significant.
Prior Dartmouth Medical School studies have shown that viewing smoking in movies is associated with smoking initiation among adolescents. If tobacco companies are not paying movie studios to feature their tobacco brands, they are not in violation of the MSA. However, Dr. Adachi-Mejia notes that, "the continued presence of tobacco brand appearances in movies, whether paid for or not, undermines the intent of the MSA and limits the favorable impact the MSA could have on preventing youth smoking."