Despite ban, films flaunt cigarettes

Long-ago screen icons like Humphrey Bogart might be forgiven if we think of them enveloped in a hazy cloud of cigarette smoke.

A half century or more ago, the addictive and harmful nature of smoking was less well known. Celebrities regularly endorsed cigarette brands in ads.

But in 1989, after decades of government warnings of the hazards of smoking, the film industry finally promised to stop showing cigarette brand names in their movies in exchange for payments from cigarette companies.

Apparently, that effort has gone up in smoke. According to a study published last month in the British medical journal The Lancet, cigarette brands are seen on screen just as frequently as before the ban.

A group of researchers at Dartmouth College studied 10 years of top box-office hits before and after the ban (1988-97). They found a whopping 87 percent of the films depicted smoking and 28 percent showed at least one cigarette brand name.

"Whether or not a financial exchange [still] takes place between the [cigarette and film] industries, the result is the same: US cigarettes are being marketed to a global audience through cinema films," the study concludes.

When actors are shown smoking a particular brand, viewers "attitudes toward tobacco use become more favourable. Cross-sectional studies show an association between on-screen smoking [by] an adolescent's favourite movie actor and his or her own smoking behaviour," the study adds.

Cigarette brands were just as likely to be seen in films aimed at young audiences, such as "Ghostbusters II," "Home Alone 2," and "The Nutty Professor" as in those aimed at adults.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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