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Drugs & Health Blog

Does Smoking on TV Influence You?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

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.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


TV and cartoons/shows should not show smoking.If you think about it their basically advertising something that injures your lungs mouth etc. If their advertising smoking why dont they advertise other things like drugs that would not make a difference because they are BOTH HARMFUL to your body.

No it doesn't because most of them all are wired and make dumb choices and get ugly and I wouldn't want to be like that
TV shows shouldn't have/show smoking. Why do they advertise smoking when people know it is very bad for you? They cause lung cancer, wheezing, a severe cough etc. There is also thousands of people that die each year just because of smoking so I think TV shows should advertise smoking.
Shows can really influnce young teens and by showing charaters/people smoking it might make young veiwers want to try it for themselfs. I think its not right to advertise something so bad and harmful to the body to young kids/teens on there favorite t.v. shows.
Showing advertisments of ciggarette smoking can influence teens and adults to try smoking. It's better to show advertisments on the dangers of smoking so this influences people to not smoke and scares kids into thinking I am not going to do this. Overall, people should not show advertisments on smoking unless it's the dangers of smoking
Smoking on tv does influence young teens because if it is shown on tv, then it must be ok to do it. I don't understand why people on tv show smoking because it is very harmful to the body and is just wrong in the first place. The more kids see people on tv smoking, the more likely kids will start smoking. I hope that tv cuts out all the smoking shown.
Tv is a bad I fluence you could ask for and adults too they tell us not to do drugs but here they are doing them!!!!
Tv shows and movies should be banned from showing cigarette smoking. It promotes cigarettes as cool despite decades of knowledge proving it's deadly.
Are you going to stop movies and tv shows from putting glamerous cigarette scenes in their shows? No. The Cigarette industry spends 17 billion dollars on advertising each year, the ads directed at getting the average aged smoking starter (12 years old) to get started. In two weeks they are hooked (severely addicted). Watch Turner movies on the Turner movie channel. Most of these older movies are stuffed full of smoking scenes from start to finish, the adds showing profile shots of glamorous actors-actresses Actors were paid large amounts of money to smoke in these movies and endorse specific cigaretts. They all made money, many died prematurely from heart faileir or if they lived long enough, lung cancer. Will someone go back and take out the cigarette scenes in the turner classic movies? NO. I suspect the tobacco industry is dumping much money into Turner movies to keep them showing. Now the industry is donating large amounts of money to polititions to get them to help suppress studies showing the effects of cigarettes, get them to stop raising taxes on cigarettes, and get the politicians to block attempts to get cigarette and alcohol placements in programing. (Tune into the national news show Saturday morning and watch the anchorman sit down to a meal prepaired by a guest scheff. each time the meal ended with a hard alcohol drink, the male anchorman seeming to be in a can't wait mode to get to). On one of these shows,when it came time to drink (in front of many kids in the viewing audience) the anchorman said why aren't you joing us in drinking. She responded, our restaurant is a bar but we don't drink in the morning. Drinking in the morning is a good indication of a drinking problem (Alcahaulism?) This show right at the prime time for kids watching Saturday morning TV, the last show in the morning before the kids cartoons came on. Could this ritual have any thing to do with the TV network's gaining the right to advertise hard licquor? Alcahol placements in TV shows at prime times have risen drastically since the start of the advertising. Do Your kids watch the heavy drinking scenes on the The Big Bang Theory? Do they watch the smoking and extreme drinking scenes on the prime time Two and a Half Men? Was the kid in two and a half men the one that got so sick from drinking that he was heaving in the toilet while the audience laughed? Check out how much money the Tobbaco industry donates to Republican and Democratic members of congress. George W Bush was the largest receiver of Tobbaco donations at a time when the tobacco industry was loosing battles over holding the tobacco industry liable for misleading statements they made saying tobacco wasn't addictive, tobacco wasn't harmful to your health, and that they had changed ingredient mixs in cigaretts to make them more addictive. When Joe Camel ad were started, most youth were buying Marlboro Cigarettes (Be like the Marlboro Man). In one year of advertising, Camels took over 50% of the youth smoking market, leaving Marlboro in the dust. Was that Loas Lane smoking in the Superman Movie??? "Square" Clark Kent told her "Oh Lois. Smoking is bad for your health". Lois answered him mind you own business. Was this the tobacco industry paying a producer to put a message into this movie, a movie popular with kids?? Yes. Stop the tobacco industry and put it out of business. We don't need them.