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Smoke Free Movies: Yes!

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I just read an alarming statistic today that stated kids are more likely to start smoking the more often they see characters smoking in movies. This is alarming because there is ALOT of smoking going on in movies! I am so appalled by this that I just can't let it go. So bear with me while we take a minor detour.

I have always been bothered by the egregious and blatant display of smoking in movies and the lack of reason for it. I hear over and over again the argument that cigarette smoking helps define a character. Bad guys look 'bad' holding a cigarette. Really? So I started paying more attention to characters that smoked and why having a cigarette in their hands seemed to be so important to their character development.

What I observed is, it is not only the bad guys who are smoking. No sirree. All kinds of characters are smoking; good guys, romantic leads, moms, dads, teens, the cool 'guys', the funny guy, and so on. In fact, the number of people smoking in movies is totally unrepresentative of reality. There are many many more people smoking on screen than there are in real life. It's no wonder as the majority of movies contain some kind of smoking behavior. According to the recently released report, Trends in Top Box Office Tobacco Use, 1996-2004 73% of youth rated movies (G, PG, PG-13) and 88% of R rated movies in 2004 contained smoking behavior. That's crazy talk, but true.

So how does holding and smoking a lit cigarette help define a character? The answer: it doesn't!! To me if characters have to smoke to help define them, then that tells me the script writer is lazy and doesn't know how to do his job. Only a cigarette can enhance a character? Are we no more creative than that?

Writers should be anyway, but the fact is smoking in movies sells! Movie tobacco use is far more effective in getting kids to start smoking than conventional cigarette advertising. The prevailing theory is big tobacco is providing much of the financing for movies to be made. How else can this unrealistic prevalence and glamorization of smoking in movies be explained? Over and over again I watch movies and I see actors smoking and it has nothing to do with their character. Their characters would have been exactly the same without the cancer stick.

If this bothers you as much as it does me (and it should because this is the health of our kids we're talking about) check out the Smoke Free Movies website at http://smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu/index.html for more information. Of course there's lots of statistics but the site also offers tips on how you can take action to make a difference.

I'll be back to nutrition next week but I appreciate your ear.

Have a smoke-free day! (and don't forget your fruits and veggies)
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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