26 July 2006

Films influence children to smoke

One brow arched, the villain eyes his helpless victim with disdain. He lights up a smoke and slowly circles his nemesis, relishing the moment. He pauses to exhale and then tosses the cigarette to the ground, crushing it under his ominous black boot as if it were his enemy.

Scenes such as this one are found in countless Hollywood movies. From the menacing bad guy to the sexy leading lady, many actors depend on smoking to convey a certain attitude or persona. Tobacco's starring role in the movies may be building up to a dangerous plot twist for teens.

Films influence children to smoke because it's a tremendously powerful emotional medium and the presentation of smoking in movies effectively functions as subliminal advertising. As is the case with all effective subliminal advertising, susceptible children are reaching for the cancer-causing sticks in droves without thinking about the consequences. And why shouldn't they? After all, it's not often that Hollywood shows a central character who smokes later dying of lung cancer or emphysema.

There is a long-standing relationship between the tobacco industry and the film industry that goes back decades. A press release issued by Philip Morris USA in March states, "Although some continue to believe that the appearance of cigarette brands and brand imagery in movies and television shows is the result of product placement by tobacco companies, Philip Morris USA continues to deny all product-placement requests for its brands." Philip Morris USA may not partake in product placement — but Philip Morris International might. Philip Morris International is not bound to the 1999 agreement and is free to offer money in exchange for product screen time.

In response to Big Tobacco's persistent presence in movies, many organizations are striving to put stricter policies in place regarding smoking. But while few people publicly praise the use of tobacco imagery on the big screen, just as few seem to vocally denounce it. Advocates note that the key is a proactive approach by audiences and studios alike. There are people who are individually doing the right thing, but no one in Hollywood has come forward to take a leadership position on this.

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