Smoking in Film and TV

Movie Camera

There was a time where smoking in TV and films was on the decrease, where the amount of hours showing a smoking related scene decreased by almost 7 hours between the years of 1950 and 1982[1]. However, it is once again on the rise, with the amount of times tobacco is used within PG 13 films alone, jumping 120% between 2013 and 2018[2]. The constant exposure to the act of smoking and use of tobacco has had a negative effect on the health of teens and young adults in society today.

It’s in these ‘teen shows’ where smoking is shown as a way of achieving a cool or rebellious status, that young adults are watching on a regular basis and mimicking. When exposed to smoking imagery in shows, young people are three times more likely to start vaping[3]. As the amount of films and tv shows that depict tobacco and smoking in this glamorous way continues to increase, as does the risk to young people’s health.

It’s within recent years that the amount of hours within film and TV that showcase smoking has increased, especially in those that are aimed towards teenagers and young adults. In 2020 alone, 38% of the highest grossing movies included imagery of some form of tobacco depiction[4]. In a report done by Truth Initiative into the entertainment industry and tobacco depiction, they found that across the 15 popular streamed shows, 60% of 15-24 year old’s favourite new releases included some form of tobacco imagery, as did 64% of the top-binged shows.

Netflix’s Power

The normalisation of smoking within the entertainment industry is shown through shows such as Stranger Things, which had 182 instances of tobacco imagery in just the first season[5]. With a target audience of mostly teenagers and young adults, the show is constantly exposing them to habits which they are likely to copy. Since this concern was raised, Netflix responded with a statement, claiming that going forward they would not include any depictions of tobacco or e-cigarettes in films and series below a PG-13 or TV-14 rating, unless for reasons such as historical accuracy[6].

Indian Cinema

On the other side of the globe, in the world of Indian cinema, it’s common to find disclaimers in small text on scenes within films that shows smoking, drinking or sometimes violence, highlighting that the actions within the scene are ‘injurious to health’. Whilst there has been debate as to whether this small text actually works or just distracts viewers from the film itself, it emphasis to audiences that the actions shown are purely for entertainment purposes and shouldn’t be copied. This is an idea that platforms such as Netflix and Amazon could adopt, however, there is also the option of removing the use of tobacco from film and TV altogether.







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