Helping teenagers find their unique identity includes not letting them fall into the trap of trying to look "cool" by smoking cigarettes. They need all of society's help in finding their ability to reject the "glamour" of tobacco use.
Yet that glamour factory called Hollywood is out of sync with the active antitobacco movement that has swept America. Why is it still letting movie stars, those celluloid icons of a personality-driven culture, light up in films, knowing full well that smoking is blamed for the deaths of some 5 million people worldwide each year?
A recent study by an antismoking group looked at 216 movies advertised on TV between August 2001 and July 2002. It shows that some 67 percent of those films (one-third of which were rated PG) depicted smoking. In R-rated films, that number rose to 85 percent. Another study shows that smoking in the movies went up in the 1990s after a 25-year decline.
Big tobacco companies cannot legally pay to have their products placed in movies - that was banned by the Master Settlement Agreement between cigarettemakers and 46 states in 1998 - but suspicions about some sort of payoffs continue, according to Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California and head of the Smoke Free Films project (smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu).
Hollywood justifies smoking in movies by claiming it depicts "reality." That reality, however, is in swift retreat, and filmmakers need to get with it. The media, too, must alert parents to movies that contain smoking. Everyone has a stake in helping children learn how to make healthy choices.