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Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 236 -- Smoking In American Cinema.

Movies & Cigs-

In an earlier post, I noted that smoking has declined somewhat dramatically in the United States over the past few decades, but among young males over the past several years, the rate has actually risen slightly. A couple of emailers suggested that it might be the movies. All the smoking in the movies is making young people-- especially young white men-- smoke.

Well, maybe. Maybe not. I am not so sure the explanation is particularly robust, after reading this:

Smoking prevalence is the same in contemporary American movies and in the general US population (23.3% vs 24.8%, respectively).

Broken down into groups:

R versus PG-13 versus PG:


Not surprisingly, R-rated films have more smokers, while more family-friendly films have less of them.

PG: 8.1% of characters smoke.
PG-13: 16.2% of characters smoke.
R: 37.3% of characters smoke.

Good Guys versus Bad Guys:


Villains smoke far more than the good guys, 35.7% to 20.6%. Interesting.

Men versus Women:


Men smoke slightly more than women in the movies (25.5% to 20.5%). This is roughly in line with the real world.

Poor versus Middle versus Rich:


Lower socioeconomic status: 48.2% smoked.
Middle socioeconomic status: 22.9% smoked.
Upper socioeconomic status: 10.5% smoked.

So, poor people smoked a lot more than rich people in American films? Hmm...

Interestingly, 46.2% of independent film characters smoked, while only 18.2% of major studio characters smoked. This tends to negate the notion that big tobacco is systematically pushing its products via the corporate movie studios.

If anything, there is a clear anti-smoking message in modern American cinema. If you smoke, according to the movies, you are poor (likely white) trash, AND you are bad or evil or otherwise objectionable.

It would be an understatement to say that I am anti-smoking and anti-cigarette (it's really stupid to smoke, people), but I don't think you can pin blame on the big tobacco companies (or Hollywood) for the modest rise in smoking rates among certain impressionable demographic groups in recent years. Nor is it a good idea to bowdlerize films (and other popular culture), past, present, and future, eliminating all traces of smoking in the process. That sort of revisionism of life is more than a little bit creepy.

Chest Medical Journal, American College of Chest Physicians.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Leprosy.

Posted by Will Franklin · 5 December 2005 10:39 AM


But where are the numbers from X-rated films? I wanna know about the PORN!

(Guess I can kiss goodbye to EVER getting featured in the Carnival of Classiness again...)


Posted by: Jay Tea at December 5, 2005 12:19 PM

XoX00 Bye Jay Tea!...Wait a second! Maybe Will understands and we may see you again real soon in WILLisms.com Classy section?

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at December 5, 2005 03:22 PM

This is a very interesting post. Thank you.

Posted by: Jane at December 5, 2005 09:43 PM

Perhaps the increase in white male smoking is the same phenomenon that has caused me to (repeatedly) consider start smoking - an old fashioned FU to the PC police. I speculate that white males, being the target of much of the activities of the PC police, would be more attracted to such a rationale.

For instance, every time I see or hear one of those "Y do you think?" commercials denigrating a tobacco company for engaging in run-of-the-mill capitalism (such as the one where tobacco execs are sitting around the board room throwing out ideas for other tobacco-based products), I feel a strong compulsion to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes just to spite the anti-tobacco lobby. I get the same feeling when I see another city telling bars that they can't be smoking establishments.

So rather than movies, it may be partially from a anti-PC backlash (I assume there are other contributing factors).

Posted by: Jody at December 6, 2005 08:12 AM