CDC to Hollywood: Stop with the smoking already!

The Centers for Disease Control released a report today on the prevalence of cigarette smoking in movies, and, as you might guess, they found that there’s too damn much of it. According to the CDC’s analysis, nearly half of all the popular movies released in 2009 contained some sort of “tobacco imagery,” including 54 percent of the films that were rated PG-13. If you dig deeper into the numbers, though, it turns out that the prevalence of smoking in movies has actually dropped by half since 2005, which was Hollywood’s cigarette-smoking-est year on record (well, at least going back to 1991). Still, the CDC isn’t about to give the film industry a pass on the issue: In fact, to prevent Hollywood from glamorizing cigarette use for impressionable younger viewers, the CDC advocates slapping with an automatic R rating any movie that shows someone smoking a cigarette. Get it, kids? Smoking isn’t cool! In fact, it’s so uncool that it can only be shown in those movies that have nudity, bad words, violence, and other stuff too awesome for you to see until you’re 17!

Sorry to be glib. But personally I feel like I hardly ever see anyone smoking in movies anymore. On Mad Men, sure, but in movies? Not so much—certainly not compared with the old, pre-PC days when seemingly everyone in movies smoked and no one gave it a second thought. But are you still noticing a lot of cigarettes in movies? Does it bother you—and, if so, do you think it should earn a movie an R rating? And since we’re on the topic, what’s the all-time most smoking-intensive movie you can think of? I nominate the 1986 black comedy Withnail and I. Back in college, one of my roommates once tried to match Richard E. Grant’s non-stop smoking in that movie — cigarette-for-cigarette — and nearly puked out a lung. What’s your pick?

Comments (95 total) Add your comment
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  • Ceballos

    Yeah, I feel like the whole “smoking in movies” topic only enters my mind when studies like this pop up – I just don’t feel like it’s a big thing anymore.

    In fact, it’s so not a big thing that whenever I watch “Mad Men” or anything else with people smoking freely (Don smoking on a plane, Betty smoking while she’s pregnant, etc.) THAT’S what feels jarring because it’s pretty unusual in contemporary movies.

    • etm


    • LOL

      Smoking is a filthy addiction. Nothing is more disgusting.

      • Christian

        Not even projectile vomiting, and then drinking it?

      • v

        What about murder and rape? There are people who do those things habitually.

      • paige

        yea smoking is just as bad as genocidal cannabalistic infanticide.

      • Liz

        They should have an automatic R rating for any scene with a fat person in it. Or any scene where people are eating food that contains transfats. Or any scene where a person is sitting. Sloth leads to heart disease, afterall. Nothing is more disgusting than a fat person sitting and eating a bacon double cheese burger.

  • Mary

    Seeing someone smoke in a movie never made me want to smoke as a kid/teenager (I’m 30 now). It was just…there. Is it really making such an impression on kids now?

    • KWise

      Yes, numerous empirical studies show that watching characters smoking in movies makes teens think it’s cool. It also gives them more positive attitudes about smoking. And like you, the same teens almost always say “oh no, it doesn’t affect ME – it doesn’t make ME want to smoke.” But the data overwhelmingly say otherwise. Remember: NOBODY thinks the media affects them. Nobody thinks they are influenced by advertising, and nobody thinks they are affected by media violence. But the research says otherwise. I’m just sayin’

      • u

        Well, regardless of what research says, I can confidently and honestly say that I’ve never been influenced to take up smoking or any other sordid activity by watching movies or TV portraying it. Maybe it’s because my parents did a good job of explaining to me the horrible side-effects of smoking, not to mention those graphic anti-smoking ads that show its effects on the body. No movie could make me risk getting lung cancer or any other God-awful disease that results from smoking.

      • ausmax

        Except the scientific basis for the studies that you mention typically only tests correlation, which really tells you nothing about the effect of media advertising. Unfortunately, most people that do social science studies don’t understand statistics.

      • AJ

        Good point ausmax.
        “Correlation does not imply causation.”

      • dan

        What data. Just because you say it doesnt make it true. If there is a study that proves your point than state the case but just dont say it likes it fact. There are studies that show that smoking in movies actually make people want to quit. See, I can make things up too. If you want to sound smart than back up your statements with the actual study.

    • Nicole

      And whether or not it makes kids think it’s cool is almost besides the point. They know it’s bad for them. If they smoke they just don’t care.

  • Lisa

    If you don’t want to see it on T.V., don’t want to smell it, don’t want to see it, stop bitching and make it illegal!

  • anonymous

    I sometimes find smoking in movies annoying. Like when a character who we have never seen smoking the whole movie will suddenly pull out a cigarette and start smoking in order to show how stressed they are. And it is kinda ridiculous that there was more cigarette smokng in films in 2005 than there was in most of the 90’s. But a rated R for smoking is extreme and stupid. I think the MPAA is overly harsh in its ratings already.

    • Jen

      You could also argue that you are bringing more attention to the smoking by slapping a R Rating on it. Kids will always be drawn to movies that are considered too risky to see so you could argue they would more inclined to pick up the habit if it was considered rebellous and cooler by putting restrictions on the movies. I know Smoking is a disgusting thing but it is not illegal and people still have the choice to choose if they want to smoke or not.

  • Christian

    Thank You For Smoking FTW!

  • shotgunsamurai42

    Smoking is fun and cool, so of course kids shouldn’t be exposed to it.

  • Bill

    I am waiting for the CDC to issue similar request for eliminating promiscuous sex in Hollywood productions. Considering that something like one in six people are infected with herpes which is easily passed during “safe sex”, this is a huge problem. But I guess the only abstinence programs that are politically acceptable are the ones involving tobacco.

    • Charlotte

      What movies are you watching? Sex has been mostly banned in movies these days unless you want an unprofitable R rating or movie-killer NC-17. And I’m sorry, I find the violence in PG-13 movies much more offensive.

      • Mike

        You don’t have to show sex. Lots of movies and soaps love to play the unwanted pregnancy story. It never occurs to them that there are worse possible consequences to the unprotected sex that let to that unwanted pregnancy. STD anyone!!!

      • v

        I agree with Charlotte.

      • Suzanne

        It is way more offensive.

    • wakeforce

      Let’s just make all movies for children. Don’t show anything that might influence. Smoking, sex, violence, swearing. Let’s just have everyone sing Kumbeyah! Let’s get real! Movies and tv are supposed to reflect the society at large.

      • u

        Really, let’s all do that so people can finally see how lame and unrealistic those drastic measures are. Who in the hell are the CDC to police what goes on in an artform? What next, they’re gonna try and get references to smoking banned from books as well? Music, too? Political correctness is sucking the life out of everything these days.

      • Ames

        Hey wakeforce, don’t forget driving. Accidents are the leading cause of death for people aged 15-24 (according to the CDC). And yet we are constantly flooded with images of people driving around in these death traps known as “cars.” When will it end?

  • jim

    Sounds like your roommate in college was an idiot. I don’t approve of smoking but if it has a place in the movie then I am ok with it but I find it irritating when someone has a cigarette and then executes some incredible athletic action. I don’t know any smokers who are truly athletic. Just a bunch of wanna be athletes.

    • u

      Um, that’s why it’s a movie. It’s not real. If movies only reflected things that could happen in real-life, then the entertainment/escapism aspect of it (the primary reason why people watch movies) would be lost.

  • rj631

    An R rating is ridiculous. I don’t really notice that lots of movies feature smoking these days. The only way I can dismiss it, if I notice it, is if the film is set in another time period where ubiquitous smoking is historically accurate.

  • Eric

    If you want to send a message, call Western Union

    • SB

      Who’s Western Union?

  • Jax

    The decline of cigarette smoking has been extremely obvious to me. Maybe it is b/c I smoke but I am getting to the point where it seems to me that freedom of expression is on the verge of being controlled. So people smoke in movies…movies are fake people! I didn’t start smoking b/c I saw some idiot in a movie doing it. Can’t remember why I started but I did and do not encourage others to do but what place is it for frickin CDC to tell movie makers what they put in their movies? I mean seriously what is next? Like Bill said, no promiscuous sex? I am tired of people imposing their views as the right ones on others. Thought this country was built on the freedom to choose and just plain ‘freedom’ in general?

  • Dean

    I nominate Jackie Brown for smokiest movie in recent memory.

  • Jax

    I smoked and just don’t honestly even see it anymore. Getting a little tired of people imposing their views on others as though they are the right ones and only ones. Movies are fake and pretend so who is the CDC to tell a writer or director to not have one of his or her fictional characters smoke? It is rediculous. What is next? What Bill said? No promiscuous sex b/c it gives bad ideas to young veiwers?

    • xyz

      1. Why would you want young viewers i.e. teens to be overly exposed to promiscuous sex which is sex with relatively many partners as if this is healthy?

      2. And sure there will be sex in movies, but that content has age restrictions for good reasons.

      3. “I smoked and just don’t honestly even see it anymore.”-That’s cause your blinded by the smoke.

      4. “Movies are fake and pretend so who is the CDC to tell a writer or director to not have one of his or her fictional characters smoke?”–Studies has shown that media and television exposure to vices and violent behavior increases said behavior in teens. The CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (works to protect public health and safety by providing information to enhance health decisions.

      Hope all of the above was real clear for you and other readers to understand.

    • Mike

      Will it be retroactive? Lets slap an R rating on all the old disney movies that showed smoking. Oh and Betty Davis movies and well most anything made prior to the 90’s.

  • Flyer

    I always feel disappointed when I see an actor I like – who I didn’t think smoked – suddenly light up on screen. (I was REALLY depressed by the HIMYM episode where all of the main characters struggled to quit a smoking habit that had never even been HINTED at before. What, were we taking story ideas from an improv audience that week?) I admire actors who refuse to smoke unless it’s CRITICAL to the plot and/or character (such as in “Thank You for Smoking”). In most cases, though, smoking is used as a gratuitous crutch to either convey a mood or character tic, or give the actor something to do with his/her hands.

    • u

      Wow, what an incredibly ignorant reason to stop liking an actor. Do you also stop admiring actors who play unsavory characters, too? Remember, they’re playing a ROLE, it’s not a reflection on who they are as a person in real life.

      • Flyer

        @u I never said I stopped liking an actor just because he/she smoked. I said I felt disappointed at seeing them smoke. What’s “incredibly ignorant” is your pathetic attempt to put words in my mouth just so you can needlessly lecture me. Next time maybe you should actually READ what people write before you decide to post a response.

    • K_Sull

      I felt the same way with that HIMYM episode.

      • Liz

        I think the HIMYM episode makes perfect sense in the context of the show. If you were telling stories to your kids you might gloss over the fact that you used to smoke. Just like when they use gags for curse words, etc.

    • Rachael

      I didn’t mind it in HIMYM, simply because it wasn’t done in a way to glorify smoking. They were trying to quit, which is VERY realistic and relatable for many people in their 20s and 30s. It was never hinted at before since it’s the father telling the story to his children – of course he left the smoking details out.
      Also, HIMYM isn’t geared toward a young audience. There are many parts of the show that I wouldn’t consider appropriate for a young audience.

  • MsDaisy

    I watch mostly classic movies and it’s too late to tell those stars to stop.

    • Mamie

      I agree with MsDaisy and I also can’t help but wonder why movies have to have sex or violence in them at all. Sure there are classic movies with some violence, but compared to today’s movies, it’s kid’s play. Classic movies also were sucessful in their time without all the sex in them. It’s so totally not necessary! One perfect example: Sex in the City (1st one) yes, I realize the title and there are several scenes in it but they’re not obnoxious and so NOT necessary but the one near the end. One gets back with her husband and the girl narrating says “and she never looked back.” and bam! a sex scene with full frontal nudity in your face! You mean that ‘never looking back’ couldn’t have been done another way? Movie makers are always so ‘in your face’ with un-needed (and unwanted!) nudity and sex in movies as sickening as the violence. And here people complain because an actor lights up a cigarette? Oh please! The violence in the movies has brought out more ‘copy cats’ than smoking has. Anything with any full nudity should be an automatic X rating. All this PC bullcrap over picking up a cigarette but hey, killing people and full shots of nudity are okay! The world’s done gone nuts!

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