Tobacco giants gain $4.1 billion from Hollywood films with smoking

The 390,000 new teen smokers recruited each year by U.S. movies are worth $4.1 billion in lifetime sales revenue to the tobacco industry, UCSF researchers report in the April 2006 issue of Pediatrics.

Combining health data with business figures from Philip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds, UCSF's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, supported by the National Cancer Institute, also calculates that Hollywood movies with smoking generate $894 million per year in lifetime tobacco profits. (Sales revenue and profits are net present value).

"Film is the single biggest recruiter of new young smokers," says medical professor Stanton Glantz, co-author of the research note. "Either Hollywood studios still get paid off, which is corrupt, or else studio-owners Disney, Time Warner, Sony, GE Universal, News Corp. and Viacom are pumping up tobacco industry profits for free, which is stupid."

The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between state Attorneys General and domestic tobacco firms prohibits tobacco product placement, but brand appearances dominated by Marlboro persist and un-branded tobacco use on film has steadily increased.

The MSA does not cover the tobacco companies' overseas affiliates. Another study recently found that BAT and Philip Morris International brand appearances almost tripled in Bollywood films after India banned tobacco ads in 2004.

"Thank You for Smoking is my early favorite for Best Documentary," comments co-author Benjamin Alamar, an economist. Based on Christopher Buckley's 1993 novel, Thank You for Smoking, in theaters this weekend, satirizes a tobacco flack soliciting Hollywood's help.

The U.S. CDC repeatedly cites smoking in movies as a primary reason the decline in teen smoking rates has stalled in recent years.

The Motion Picture Association of America has refused to update its rating system to discourage tobacco use in future youth-rated movies. It has also kept two dozen state Attorneys General waiting for more than three months to learn if the studios will add anti-tobacco PSAs to future DVDs of smoking films, as the prosecutors requested in December 2005.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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