2016 Oscars® Red Carpet Reality Check: Tobacco in Movies Recruits 1/3 of Youth Smokers

Research shows that youth are more likely to start smoking if their favourite movie star smokes on-screen

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February 23, 2016 (Vancouver) – As star-gazers and cinephiles get ready for the Oscars® this weekend, health advocates are asking why young audiences end up as the biggest losers. Of the thirteen movies up for Academy Awards this year that portray smoking, all but two are youth-rated in BC.

Heavy-smoking movies, rated “R” in the United States, are tagged 14A and PG when studios bring them over the Canada-US border and market them in BC. This year, 84% of the movies with smoking nominated in major Oscar categories were youth-rated in BC – whereas just 23% of those same films rated for youth audiences in the US.

Earlier this the month, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement calling on governments to apply adult ratings to movies with smoking because of strong evidence demonstrating that on-screen smoking causes over one-third of youth to start smoking.

“Exposure to on-screen smoking is harmful to our kids’ health” said Scott McDonald, CEO, BC Lung Association, and Chair, BC Alliance for Healthy Living. “Changing the ratings achieves two things. First of all, it protects children from tobacco promotion and reduces the risk of them ever starting to smoke. Secondly, it encourages movie producers to be judicious with tobacco imagery as they aim for a rating that will give them a wider audience.”

Research also shows that youth are more likely to start smoking if their favourite movie star smokes on-screen and this is more common among the children of non-smokers. In the Oscars this year, all of the nominees for best and supporting actors and actresses with smoking roles are in movies rated for youth audiences in BC, yet only one is youth-rated in the USA.

McDonald said, “We’re not alone in calling for change. International, national and other provincial health organizations all recommend adult-ratings for movies with smoking in them, with only two exceptions: if the smoker is a real person, or if the movie shows tobacco’s real health consequences.”

The WHO points out that signatories to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control such as Canada are “required to implement a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship according to Article 13 of the treaty [recognizing that], tobacco in films is a form of tobacco promotion that can strongly influence tobacco use, particularly among young people.”

Katrina van Bylandt
Communications Manager
BC Lung Association

The BC Alliance for Healthy Living includes BC Healthy CommunitiesBC Lung Association, BC Pediatric Society, BC Recreation and Parks Association, Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon Division, Canadian Diabetes Association, Canadian Mental Health Association, BC DivisionDietitians of Canada, BC Region, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, BC and Yukon, Public Health Association of BC, Union of BC Municipalities, YMCA of Greater Vancouver, representatives from all five health authorities and 31 other regional or provincial organizations committed to disease prevention through healthy living.