Movie characters smoke less since 1998 regulations that stopped tobacco
companies from buying on-screen brand placements, according to a new study.
But at the same time, researchers found the number of alcohol brand
appearances has increased in popular movies rated PG-13 and below, and the
amount of time characters spend drinking hasn't changed.
"These results are of great concern," said David Jernigan, head of the Center
on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health in Baltimore.
"In movie reality, it seems like every occasion is right for a drink," said
Jernigan, who wasn't involved in the new study. And that suggests to young
viewers that alcohol is much more common than is actually the case, he said.
"This whole conversation is about normalisation of alcohol use," Jernigan
said."Young people are particularly vulnerable to the message that drinking is
On-screen drinking still a problem
For the new study, researchers watched the top 100 box office releases of
each year between 1996 and 2009 and recorded when a movie character was shown
using or handling tobacco or alcohol, and when a particular brand was
In all, Elaina Bergamini from the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, New
Hampshire, and her colleagues recorded 500 tobacco and 2 433 alcohol brand
placements in all films combined.
The number of tobacco brand appearances ranged from 54 to 98 per year before
2000, then declined to 22 per year after 2006.
The amount of time characters were shown using tobacco also dropped over time
in both youth and adult movies.
That suggests the 1998 regulation, part of the Master Settlement Agreement
between tobacco companies and US states, successfully stopped the tobacco
industry from paying for its products to be shown on screen, the study team
wrote in JAMA Pediatrics.
Leave it up to the parents
On the other hand, alcohol brand appearances in youth-rated movies, in
particular, increased from 80 to 145 per year during the study period. Budweiser
was the most common alcohol brand shown in films. Parent company Anheuser Busch
did not comment before press time.
Jernigan said that because there's unlikely to be a similar settlement for
the beverage industry, any regulation on product placement would have to come
from the companies themselves or from the movie industry.
For example, some organisations have suggested movies showing drinking should
automatically be rated R. Concern stems from research tying on-screen smoking
and drinking to more of that behaviour among youth who watch those movies.
"Children who see smoking in the movies are more likely to initiate smoking,"
Bergamini said. "I think there is some concern that that may hold true for
alcohol as well."
"The notorious thing you find in movies and in TV is heavy drinking without
consequences," Jernigan said.
"It leaves it up to parents to tell the consequences story."