National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  February 6, 2004

Anti-smoking David takes on movie Goliath

The evidence is on the screen. The harm has been measured. Smoking by leading actors and positively portraying cigarette brands helps push young moviegoers toward smoking and the not-so-glamorous possibilities of a life shortened by lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

Stanton Glantz’s campaign estimates that movie smoking adds enough teen smokers to bring $3.2 billion in sales for tobacco products, more than making up for smokers who die. Not every teen who watches movies starts smoking, but the Dartmouth Medical School study shows that smoking on the big screen is the No. 1 factor leading nonsmoking teens to light up (see story).

Just how tobacco products increasingly end up in movies aimed at teens remains unanswered. A spokesperson for Philip Morris USA, which makes Marlboro cigarettes, a brand that has shown up in a number of recent movies, told NCR that if movies “use or depict” Philip Morris brands, “they do so without seeking or obtaining our permission. Our policy for over a decade has been to deny requests for use of our cigarette brands, name or packaging in motion pictures or television shows for the general public, irrespective of whether that audience is adults or minors.”

Matters were clearer in the years before 1998, when some tobacco companies paid for product placement in movies, as evidenced in tobacco litigation documents. Throughout the 1980s the documents show that tobacco companies paid Hollywood product placement firms to get cigarettes, cigars and lead-character smoking written into scripts.

That practice was prohibited with the signing of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, yet there was more smoking in year 2000 films than in the 1960s, before the Surgeon General’s report on the health dangers of smoking.

Capuchin Fr. Michael Crosby, no stranger to fighting corporations over ethical matters, has taken aim this year at the movie industry. He joins the determined efforts of Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and a director of its Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

It is always dangerous to attempt to insert rules into the creative process. However, with research showing such a direct connection between smoking on the big screen and hooking teenagers on a harmful habit, it is more than reasonable to hold the industry accountable for the increasing depiction of smoking in movies aimed at the teen audience.

Crosby and Glazer are mounting their campaign so that youth-rated films will not continue to display tobacco products and portray smoking as normal and desirable. The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Society for Adolescent Medicine, 27 state attorneys general and the World Health Organization have endorsed Glantz’s “Smoke-Free Movies” campaign.

“It’s David vs. Goliath,” said one tobacco control advocate of the fight to rein in the growing use of tobacco in movies. Glantz, Crosby and the other “Davids” invite the public to join them.

National Catholic Reporter, February 6, 2004

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