Movies Feature More Alcohol, Less Tobacco, Study Finds

Posted on June 19th, 2013

Movies Feature More Alcohol, Less Tobacco, Study FindsWe teach our kids that underage drinking is not a good idea. But, are TV and film contradicting that message? Television ads and movies portray drinking as fun, sexy, social and harmless, so it’s no surprise that young adults are tempted to give it a try. This dichotomy is sending young adults mixed messages and has left many wondering if something should be done to further limit underage exposure to alcohol and related ads.

Not long ago, the Marlboro Man was touting fun-loving, carefree images of tobacco use in the media that many considered to be attempts to hook America’s youth. Anti-smoking groups banned together and the U.S. government pointed the finger at the tobacco industry for hiding information about the dangers of smoking. As a result of the master settlement agreement (MSA) in 1998, tobacco use was curbed in film.

In fact, new research showed that for 1,400 box-office hits released between 1996 and 2009, instances of smoking and the use of tobacco products plummeted by more than 85 percent and 42 percent for both adult and youth-rated films respectively.

Interestingly, during this same period, the study showed that alcohol use on screen increased. According to the study, the alcohol industry is guided only by self-regulation and, unlike the tobacco industry, has not been forced to comply with external measures that monitor and enforce placement. As a result, brand placement for youth rated films increased between 1996 and 2009 from 80 to 145 alcohol placements annually.

The results of the study, which were published online in the JAMA Pediatrics journal, indicate that self-regulation measures were not effective in limiting the exposure of smoking and tobacco products in film as these types of measures had been in place 10 years before the mandatory stipulations took effect. In essence, the tobacco industry had been ignoring its self-imposed rules to limit exposure for at least a decade.

Experts are still unclear regarding the impact that alcohol and tobacco placements have on America’s youth. One study conducted in Europe in 2012 showed that teens living in six European countries were at higher risk for binge drinking after being exposed to heavy alcohol scenes in film. While researchers from that study did not conclude a direct causal relationship between drinking in the movies and adolescent binge drinking, they did say that teens who viewed such scenes were more apt to think drinking was OK and emulate that behavior.

If the tobacco industry offers any foreknowledge, it is that the alcohol industry will also have to be subjected to mandatory regulation in order for instances of drinking on the big screen to be reduced. Until that time comes, however, study authors emphasize the importance of parents talking to their children about onscreen depictions of alcohol use and watching movies together as an extra measure of control.

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