Anti-Smoking Fibs Continue to Entice Journalists


In an article about smoking on TV and in the movies, headlined "Images Continue to Entice Kids to Smoke" in the Ventury County Star, Wall Street Journal health writer Tara Parker-Pope unskeptically repeats and even embellishes the claims of anti-smoking activists. "Several studies show that regular exposure to smoking images on television and in movies dramatically increases a child's risk for trying cigarettes and becoming a smoker," she writes. What the studies actually show is an association between watching adult-oriented fare (which is more likely to feature tobacco use) and smoking. It's not clear whether the viewing habits cause the smoking or simply reflect personality and environmental factors that independently make smoking more likely. The question is whether kids who see a lot of R-rated movies are different from those who don't in ways that affect their attraction to cigarettes.

Parker-Pope also implies that the prevalence of smoking in movies is three times as high as it is in real life:

Of the 50 top-grossing films of 2004 and 2005, 66 percent contained depictions of smoking, with an average frequency of 12.8 incidents per hour, according to research by the American Lung Association chapter in Sacramento. That's the highest measured incidence in a decade. Notably, the incidence of smoking in the movies is far higher than in real life, where about 21 percent of U.S. adults and about 22 percent of high school students smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But these two numbers, the 66 percent and the 21 percent, are not comparable. If two-thirds of the movies included smoking, that does not mean two-thirds of the characters smoked. A 2005 study published in the journal Chest looked at a larger sample of films and found that "contemporary American movies do not have a higher prevalence of smoking than the general U.S. population." (The study also found that smoking in the movies was concentrated among poor people and villains.)

Finally, Parker-Pope leaves the impression that cinematic smoking is on the rise. She quotes the dean of the Harvard School of Public Health to that effect, and the Ventury County Star subhead says, "Research Shows Depictions in Movies Are Rising." Yet the Motion Picture Association of America reports that the share of movies including "even a fleeting glimpse of smoking" dropped from 60 percent to 52 percent between July 2004 and July 2006. Does Parker-Pope have reason to believe the MPAA made those numbers up, or did she leave them out because they undermined the anti-smoking movement's argument, which she has adopted as her own?

[Thanks to Linda Stewart for the tip.]

NEXT: Cavanaugh vs. Gillespie, Take Two

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  1. 2/3 of people don’t blow shit up, or have supernatural powers, either

  2. I like medieval fantasy.

    Does this mean I’m going to pick up a sabre, get on my horse and start hacking people’s heads off?

  3. … and on an internet blog site, earlier today, a commenter by the name of Arensen posted stories of how he planned to behead people using a sword. Story at eleven.

  4. Tara Parker-Pope also believes in the myth that good WASP girls don’t give head.

    Face it guys, liberty lost in the WOS. The activists and their very useful idiots in the media have won.

  5. I personally encourage little kids to start smoking. Is that bad?

  6. Of the 50 top-grossing films of 2004 and 2005, 66 percent contained depictions of smoking, with an average frequency of 12.8 incidents per hour

    Seriously? More frequently than once every five minutes? And this is an average, presumably including a decent amount of “Finding Nemo” and whatnot that, I assume, contain absolutely no smoking whatsoever. Meaning the smoking-heavy films that are offsetting the smoke-free flicks have an even greater average. Anyone buying this?

  7. On a similar note of media hysteria, Sheppard Smith and some “expert” on FOX News just went apeshit over cold medicine containing DXM, kids using it to get high, some retard in New York, I think, wants to ban it for those under 19. “Enough of it will kill you,” that sort of stuff. True, but enough Tylenol (with one of the worst theraputic indexes of any common medicines) will also kill you. But at least you won’t enjoy it.

    Sure would be nice if kids looking to get high had some sort of safe, natural alternative that has never killed anyone via overdose, but that’s just a fantasy, right?

    Shep repeatedly referred to the demon substance in question as “DMX”. No, DMX is an inferior rapper. DXM is an inferior hallucinogen.

  8. AtA
    My guess is the average is only for the films that actually feature smoking. So it isn’t being watered down by Nemo. Ha! See what I did there? “Watered” down by Nemo… ahem
    Anyway, Yeah even if we take that as a given, that’s still a lot of puffing. I’m thinking they’re over counting the same ciggy. Like every time someone takes a drag. Or like if there’s a conversation between two characters (each smoking) every time there’s a camera take to the other talking head, they count it.

  9. MSM

    If you hear hoofbeats, duck!



  10. Well, if they’re including porn flicks in that count, that could inflate the numbers as well. Jenna Jameson is smoking in every scene, and she makes a lot of films.


  11. Reminds me of my favorite episode of “Homicide” where some of the cops try to quit smoking. NBC made a big stink to the producers about the fact that police smoke a lot.

  12. If you hear hoofbeats, duck!

    HISTORIAN: Defeat at the debate seems to have utterly disheartened Ron Paul. The ferocity of the Giuliani taunting took him completely by surprise, and Dr. Paul became convinced that a new strategy was required if the quest for the Presidency were to be brought to a successful conclusion. Dr. Paul, having consulted his closest aides, decided that they should separate and search for the Presidency individually. Now, this is what they did: Badnarik-

    ARESEN: Aaaah!


  13. I’m going home to watch Casablanca with the incadescent bulbs turned all the way up.

  14. jimbo wrote:

    2/3 of people don’t blow shit up, or have supernatural powers, either

    Maybe not in YOUR neighborhood . . !

  15. OBVIOUSLY, what we need are more boring movies that involve everyday boring stuff like working in a cubicle, making dinners, washing clothes, and other such stuff of real life that people will flock to the theatres to see instead of merely experiencing the drab and ordinary in their own lives…

  16. “Of the 50 top-grossing films of 2004 and 2005, 66 percent contained depictions of smoking”

    It’s cause they mostly put cool people in movies. No shit.

    Again – smoking is cool kids.

  17. First rule:
    Smokers are THE last people society has
    to pick on, look down on, feel better than.

    There has to be a Bogart smoke exemption,
    and one for the old two on a match scene.
    Without cigarettes as a prop
    and smoke as a visual device,
    what are actors to do with their hands,
    put them in their pockets? Art suffers.

    Also, I thought I saw a guy drinking alcohol!
    Did you see that car speeding on the street?
    Hey, someone is eating fried food on screen.
    Look at the food being sold in the theaters!
    Mommie, daddy, where are you?
    Won’t you tell us what to do?

  18. Smokers are THE last people society has to pick on, look down on, feel better than.

    Gun owners, business owners, WalMart executives, CEOs, rednecks, drug users, pornography collectors, white males, libertarians, overweight people, anorexic movie stars, clueless parents…

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