Smoking in the movies: the effects beyond the screen

The movies? Glamorous. Smoking? Not so glamorous.


  1. Watching movies is one of America's favorite pastimes, but grabbing some popcorn, a drink and...a cigarette? As adolescents are exposed to more incidents of onscreen smoking, they are more likely to begin smoking and face the negative health effects during their lifetimes.
  2. Young woman eating popcorn in movie theater
    Young woman eating popcorn in movie theater
  3. Smoking and the movies: What's the connection?

  4. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S. A surgeon general’s report predicted that 5.6 million adolescents alive today will end up dying from tobacco-related diseases at this rate.
  5. A new study on smoking in movies — released July 7 in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — notes that there is a causal relationship between onscreen smoking in movies and adolescents who start smoking. Adolescents who are heavily exposed to actors smoking on screen are two to three times more likely to start smoking than those who are lightly exposed.
  6. Even though there was a decrease in the number of top-grossing movies containing tobacco from 2010 to 2016, the total of tobacco incidents within top-grossing movies increased by 72 percent. In 2016, out of 143 top-grossing movies, 41 percent showed tobacco use.
  7. Smoking in movies has consequences in real life.

  8. Young people admire actors and see them as role models. Seeing actors smoke onscreen is the biggest single stimulus for smoking and is more influential than parental role modeling, peer influence or cigarette advertising. The more times youth see people smoking onscreen, the higher the chance they will start smoking.
  9. Approximately half of the top-grossing movies in the U.S. are rated PG-13. Of those, 58 percent showed smoking and tobacco use in 2002-2016. The total number of tobacco incidents in PG-13 top-grossing movies increased by 43 percent. In 2016, there were over 800 tobacco incidents in PG and PG-13 movies.
  10. What is public health doing to combat onscreen smoking?

  11. Giving an R-rating to movies that have onscreen smoking could reduce the number of adolescent smokers by 1 in 5, or 18 percent, preventing approximately 1 million smoking-related deaths. Other interventions include making sure studios and producers aren’t receiving payments for using tobacco products in films.
  12. State and local health departments could also work with state agencies to make sure subsidies aren’t given to films that show smoking.
  13. APHA and other public health organizations support the objectives of the Smokefree Movies project, which call for R ratings for all new films with smoking, a ban on pay-offs for depicting tobacco use, running anti-smoking ads in theaters and an end to tobacco brands in movies. To reach movie-makers, Smokefree Movies has run ads in industry publications.
  14. Although the Motion Picture Association of America does have a smoking “rating descriptor” that is given to some movies that have onscreen smoking, the descriptors are in fine print. In addition, in 2015, 89 percent of top-grossing adolescent movies that had onscreen smoking did not have the smoking descriptor.
  15. R-rated movies – a rising flood
    R-rated movies – a rising flood
  16. For more on tobacco risks, check out APHA's resources.