In a July report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health asserted the following about tobacco use in movies:

Guy Bentley published an excellent commentary in response, noting that any connection between smoking in movies and among teens is illusory. I provide statistical evidence of this by analyzing the CDC report’s numbers, together with smoking prevalence rates among high school seniors for the same years. The resulting chart fails to support any of the above claims.

Smoking Among Seniors and Movies 1991-2016

The number of tobacco incidents per-year in top-grossing movies varied from 1,600 to 3,300 over 25 years, 1991-2016, except for a couple of years around 2005. Smoking among high school seniors plummeted continuously after 1996. There appears to be no connection between the two data sets.

The CDC report clearly lacks objectivity. It was authored by CDC staffer Michael Tynan; Jonathan Polansky, founder of the advocacy firm Onbeyond and creator of the Smokefree Movies campaign; Kori Titus and Renata Atayeva from Breathe California Sacramento Region, an organization that “has been fighting for … tobacco-free communities [otherwise known as prohibition] since 1917”; and Stanton Glantz, faculty member of the University of California at San Francisco and a longtime tobacco opponent. Polansky, Titus and Glantz acknowledge grant support from the Truth Initiative as their only conflict of interest.

Note that the tobacco incident numbers were collected by:

Youth volunteers between the ages of 14-22 … trained to analyze tobacco content in films … Their data is posted weekly on our sister website and is used by university-level researchers and public health professionals across the globe.

This underlying data does not appear to be publicly available. The link to SceneSmoking was not functional and redirected to Breathe California Sacramento.

Image by Alexandra Siu


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