Objective. Despite voluntary restrictions prohibiting direct and indirect cigarette marketing to youth and paid product placement, tobacco use remains prevalent in movies. This article presents a systematic review of the evidence on the nature and effect of smoking in the movies on adolescents (and others).

Methodology. We performed a comprehensive literature review.

Results. We identified 40 studies. Smoking in the movies decreased from 1950 to ∼1990 and then increased rapidly. In 2002, smoking in movies was as common as it was in 1950. Movies rarely depict the negative health outcomes associated with smoking and contribute to increased perceptions of smoking prevalence and the benefits of smoking. Movie smoking is presented as adult behavior. Exposure to movie smoking makes viewers' attitudes and beliefs about smoking and smokers more favorable and has a dose-response relationship with adolescent smoking behavior. Parental restrictions on R-rated movies significantly reduces youth exposure to movie smoking and subsequent smoking uptake. Beginning in 2002, the total amount of smoking in movies was greater in youth-rated (G/PG/PG-13) films than adult-rated (R) films, significantly increasing adolescent exposure to movie smoking. Viewing antismoking advertisements before viewing movie smoking seems to blunt the stimulating effects of movie smoking on adolescent smoking.

Conclusions. Strong empirical evidence indicates that smoking in movies increases adolescent smoking initiation. Amending the movie-rating system to rate movies containing smoking as “R” should reduce adolescent exposure to smoking and subsequent smoking.

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