Smoking in the Movies
- The Surgeon General’s Report concluded that exposure to onscreen smoking in movies causes young people to start smoking.1
- If current rates continue, 5.6 million youth alive today who are projected to die from tobacco related diseases.2
- Giving an R rating to future movies with smoking would be expected to reduce the number of teen smokers by nearly 1 in 5 (18%),2,3 preventing up to 1 million deaths from smoking among children alive today.2
G (General Audience): All ages admitted
PG (Parental Guidance Suggested): Some material may not be suitable for children
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned): Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13 years
R (Restricted): Under 17 years requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
NC-17 (Adults Only): No one 17 years or under admitted
- From 2002 to 2017:
- Almost half (45%) of top-grossing movies in the United States were rated PG-13.
- 6 of every 10 PG-13 movies (57%) showed smoking or other tobacco use.
- The percentage of youth-rated movies (G, PG, PG-13) that were smokefree increased from 35% to 62%; however, in youth-rated movies that showed any smoking, the average number of tobacco incidents per movie approached historically high levels in 2016 [n=34] and were nearly as high [n=29] in 2017.5
- The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the studios’ organization that assigns ratings, provides a “smoking label” along with the regular rating for some movies that contain smoking. However, almost 9 of every 10 (89%) youth-rated, top-grossing movies with smoking do not carry an MPAA “smoking label.”5
- All six major movie companies that belong to MPAA have published individual policies addressing tobacco depictions in their movies.5
- Disney (2004)
- Time Warner’s Warner Bros. (2005)
- Comcast’s Universal (2007)
- Fox and Sony (2012)
- Viacom’s Paramount (2013)
Text description of this infographic is available on a separate page.
- A “tobacco incident” is one occurrence of smoking or other tobacco use in a movie.
- “Incidents” are a measure of the number of occurrences of smoking or other tobacco use in a movie.
- A “tobacco impression” is one person seeing one incident.
- “Impressions” are a measure of total audience exposure.
- This report’s movie sample comprises all movies that ranked among the top 10 in ticket sales (“top-grossing movies”) in any week of their first-run release to U.S. theaters.
Additional 2017 Findings5
- The percentage of PG-13 movies with tobacco incidents increased from 35% in 2016 to 50% in 2017, the highest level since 2009.
- In 2017, the number of tobacco incidents in the average youth-rated movie with tobacco (29 incidents) was 15% lower than in 2016 (34 incidents). The number in the average R-rated movie with tobacco (49 incidents) was nearly 30% lower than in 2016 (67 incidents).
- The total number of tobacco incidents in movies rated PG rebounded from 2016 to 2017 (from 4 to 10) but remained near the historic low.
- PG-13 movies included more tobacco incidents in 2017 (883) than they did in 2016 (811). The total number of incidents in youth-rated movies in 2017 (893) was 31% less than the number in 2002 (1,296).
- A significant downward trend occurred in the number of tobacco incidents in youth-rated films between 2005 and 2010, but incidents were essentially flat from 2010 through 2017. Had the average rate of decline in tobacco incidents per year observed between 2005 and 2010 been maintained, tobacco incidents would have been eliminated from all youth-rated films by early 2015.
Figure 1. Tobacco Incidents in Top-Grossing Movies by Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating, 1991–20175
Text description of this graph is available on a separate page.
- The number of tobacco incidents in movies varies by movie company. From 2010 to 2017:6
- Tobacco incidents increased in youth-rated movies from Comcast, Time Warner, and independent movie companies with top-grossing movies in 2017.
- Tobacco incidents decreased in youth-rated movies from:
Figure 2. In-Theater Tobacco Impressions by Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating, 2002–20175
Text description of this graph is available on a separate page.
- Movie companies with tobacco depiction policies included tobacco in as many of their youth-rated movies in 2017 as they did in 2010 and each of these movies included 37% more tobacco incidents, on average.5
- The increase of tobacco incidents in PG-13 movies since 2010 is of particular public health concern because of the established causal relationship between youth exposure to smoking in movies and smoking initiation.6
- Reducing tobacco incidents that appear in youth-related movies would prevent the initiation of tobacco use among young people.1-3,5-7
- Opportunities exist for movie studios to reduce tobacco incidents that appear in youth-rated movies, including rating films with smoking as R.6,7
- Other available interventions include certifying that no payments have been received by the producers and distributors for depicting tobacco use; and ending the onscreen depiction of actual tobacco brands.6,7
- State and local health departments could also work with state agencies that manage movie subsidies to ensure that such subsidies do not go to films that include depictions of tobacco use.6
- An R rating for movies with tobacco use can potentially reduce the number of teen smokers by 18% 2,3, preventing up to 1 million premature smoking deaths among youth alive today.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012 [accessed 2018 March 16].
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [accessed 2018 March 16].
- Sargent JD, Tanski S, Stoolmiller M. Influence of Motion Picture Rating on Adolescent Response to Movie Smoking. Pediatrics 2012: 130:1-9 [accessed 2018 March 16].
- Motion Picture Association of America. Film Ratings [accessed 2018 March 16].
- Polansky JR, Modisette D, Garcia CF, Glantz SA. Smoking in Top-Grossing U.S. Movies, 2017 University of California, San Francisco, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, 2016 [accessed 2018 March 16].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco Use in Top-Grossing Movies—United States 2010-2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. [accessed 2018 March 16].
- World Health Organization. Smoke-Free Movies: From Evidence to Action[PDF–754 KB]. Geneva, Switzerland, World Health Organization; 2009. [accessed 2018 March 16].
For Further Information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Office on Smoking and Health
Media Inquiries: Contact CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health press line at 770-488-5493.
- Page last reviewed: April 9, 2018
- Page last updated: April 26, 2018
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