Have you seen Avatar? Awesome special effects. And you had to love the story, especially if you're into science. But there was this one thing ...the top scientist (played by Sigorney Weaver) was a chain smoker. WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT? Alright, so movie directors will put smoking in movies to make characters look edgy and rebellious, or even stupid sometimes. But Avatar is happening 125 years in the future. Would a top-level scientist a century from now get addicted to cigarettes and not know how to stop?
Or maybe, like some other bloggers suggest, this was sponsored "product placement" by the tobacco industry-a sneaky way to get teens to think smoking is cool. Some people say that because it's illegal now for the tobacco industry to advertise on TV or in other places, their new strategy is to hook potential customers by associating smoking with heroes and heroines. Meanwhile, the American Lung Association and other groups are trying to stop moviemakers from showing so much smoking—especially since research shows that teens who see a lot of smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking themselves.
Thanks to NIDA research, we now know what smoking really does to people. And it's far from cool. To put it bluntly, the effects range from stinky breath and bad gums to heart and lung disease to early death. This message has gotten through despite the movies, and teens are smoking less now than they have in over a decade. Thanks to NIDA, better treatments to help people quit are also getting out there...125 years from now, incurable smoking addiction could be a thing of the past, like small pox. So you have to wonder why this amazing movie director who learned so much about science to create Avatar didn't take a good look at what is going on in science and health. Why else would a successful, top-level scientist still be chain smoking that far into the future?—especially in a lab, of all places! Let SBB know if you see any other ridiculous smoking scenes in the movies.
The Government banned cigarette commercials on television in 1970 after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report found that smoking cigarettes increased your chances of getting lung cancer. This was a big deal, considering the strong smoking culture in the United States at the time. However, this ban didn’t stop smoking on television. Forty-years later, characters on television shows continue to smoke.
And, what if we told you that teens are one of the primary audiences for some of those shows?
Researchers from Columbia University and Legacy (formerly the American Legacy Foundation), an anti-tobacco group that produces the “Truth” anti-smoking ad campaign, teamed up to find out how often tobacco use shows up on TV shows popular with teens. The shows included:
“Gossip Girl,” “Heroes,” “American Dad,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Family Guy,” “House,” and “The Simpsons.” They also looked at reality shows like “America’s Next Top Model” to measure depictions such as smoking, or even showing a pipe or pack of cigarettes on screen.
TV Shows Still Smokin’
Researchers watched every episode of the season. Of the 73 episodes in the analysis, 40 percent contained at least one depiction of tobacco (mainly cigarettes), double the rate from a similar study 10 years earlier. In all, there were 271 depictions, which worked out to an average of 4.4 depictions an hour.
Published in February 2011, the researchers concluded in their study:
Substantial tobacco use was observed in television shows popular among youth. It is projected that almost 1 million youth were exposed to tobacco depictions through the programming examined. Tobacco use on television should be a cause for concern, particularly because of the high volume of television viewing among younger audiences.
Other research on the connection between hours spent watching TV and young people taking up smoking, it was found that tweens and teens who watched 5 or more hours of TV each day were almost six times more likely to take up smoking than those who watched less than 2 hours.
Why Does It Matter?
Seeing other teens and young adults—celebrities, entertainers, and musicians—smoking can make it seem “cool” or popular. In fact, tobacco companies are counting on it and have invested a lot of time and money to find out the best places to reach teens. Just because the tobacco companies are banned from showing commercials on television doesn’t mean they can’t influence the content of TV shows in other, more subtle ways, or use other tools to influence smoking behavior.
Fortunately, NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders found that smoking is decreasing to historically low rates among teens, so it appears most young people are smarter than the tobacco marketers had hoped.
Which Program Had the Most Smoking-Related Depictions?
Meanwhile, can you guess which primetime program that the Columbia University and Legacy researchers studied showed the highest incidence of smoking-related depictions? Was it (a) “Gossip Girl,” (b) “Heroes,” or (c) “America’s Next Top Model”? If you picked (c), the reality-based show “America’s Top Model,” you got it right.
Kind of ironic that a show about being beautiful and glamorous shows young girls using an addictive product that eventually will make their teeth yellow, cause premature wrinkling, and possibly lead to cancer, emphysema, or heart disease—none of which is very glamorous!
What do you think about depictions of smoking on TV? To answer the question, you can either write your response in the “Leave a Reply” box below or send us a message. As always, we read all comments and consider all feedback! We look forward to hearing from you.
To learn more about the effect of product placement on teens, check out Drugs: Shatter the Myths.
Child actresses turned luxury fashion designers Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen recently announced the release of patent Nile crocodile skin backpacks, some of which are covered with fake prescription drugs, as part of their fashion line.
These limited-edition backpacks—only 12 were made—were designed by renowned artist Damien Hirst and will cost an astronomical $55,000 each.
Prescription Drugs as Fashion?
While the price might be outrageous, what about the message? Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are already among the most commonly abused drugs by 12th graders—does this bag glamorize the problem?
In an interesting twist, the retailer has said that a portion of the proceeds from these bags will be donated to UNICEF—a children’s rights organization that works on issues such as immunizations, childhood development, gender rights, and HIV/AIDS transmission around the world—but it is unclear how much will be donated.
What do you think? Fashion is about creativity and expressing one’s individuality, and in the world of couture and high fashion, designers like to push the envelope…so is this “fashion statement” from Mary Kate and Ashley enough to influence how someone thinks about drug abuse? Or, is a purse just a purse? Does the fact that a portion of the proceeds will go to charity influence your opinion?
For more information about prescription drug abuse, check out PEERx.
As more and more people use smartphones, a world of virtual games, social networking, and fun apps are at their fingertips 24/7. Photo-sharing and exercise-tracking apps can be useful and fun. Others, though, may have devious intentions, like trying to get you hooked on smoking.
Cigarette advertising was banned from TV and sports stadiums because of the terrible health risks of smoking and because it was an easy and effective way to market cigarettes to youth. But with each technological advance, tobacco companies and other advertisers are looking for new ways to reach teens—even if that means developing games and free apps for your phone.
A study of available apps on Apple and Google Play during a single month in 2012 found 107 phone apps that promoted smoking! Some of these let users smoke virtual cigarettes while others compare cigarette prices.
Many of the virtual smoking apps allow you to “smoke with friends,” and they use catchy animations that make them seem like a game. Don’t be fooled.
Next time you download an app, pause a moment to ask: “Is this app just a game or is there a hidden message?”