- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

Hollywood idols once brandished cigarettes on camera, punctuating dramatic moments with a windy puff in the days before tobacco was linked with lung cancer and other ailments.

Not much has changed.

A study finds that movie actors of today light up on-screen even more than those of yesteryear, extinguishing the idea that smoking in films is a cultural no-no.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco counted the number of “smoking incidents” in popular films and found that the stars of movies such as “Chicago” out-smoke their counterparts from the 1950s.

Fifty years ago, actors typically smoked an average of 10.7 times during every hour of film time, according to Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at UCSF.

Smoking in films shrank to 4.9 scenes per hour in the early 1980s, but by 2000, it had increased to 7.7 scenes. Now, there are about 12 smoking incidents per film hour.

The UCSF study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

Mr. Glantz also has made a list of actors who have smoked in films since 1990 — including the brands they favor on camera. The list includes Angelina Jolie (Camels), Nicholas Cage (Tareytons) and even the space aliens in “Men in Black II,” who favored Marlboros, the most frequently cited cigarette brand.

Movie smoking, he noted, has increased despite the voluntary promise by the tobacco industry in 1989 not to pay for product placement in films.

“Despite declining tobacco use and increasing public understanding of the dangers of smoking in the real world, smoking in movies has returned to levels observed in 1950, when smoking was nearly twice as prevalent in reality as it was in 2002,” Mr. Glantz said.

According to his research, 73 percent of 161 top-grossing films from 2002 to 2003 contained references to tobacco; 66 percent of movies with G, PG or PG-13 ratings also featured smoking.

Mr. Glantz advocates including a warning for parents on movies featuring smoking.

John Kirkwood, president of the American Lung Association, yesterday also urged the Motion Picture Association of America to change the ratings system.

A 2003 Dartmouth Medical School study of 2,600 teenagers funded by the National Cancer Institute found that among the 10 percent who had started smoking, more than half attributed their smoking to movies.

“In popular, contemporary movies, smoking is frequently associated with characteristics many adolescents find appealing — toughness, sexiness and rebelliousness,” the study noted.

An estimated 4.5 million American adolescents smoke, and 90 percent of adult smokers say they started the habit before age 21.

One Hollywood player has assumed some guilt for his role in it all.

A smoker from age 12, screenwriter Joe Esterhaus wrote a New York Times editorial two years ago to announce that he had throat cancer and to condemn on-screen cigarettes — featured in 14 of his movies, including “Basic Instinct.”

“What we are doing by glamorizing smoking is unconscionable,” he wrote. “I have been an accomplice to the murders of untold numbers of human beings.”

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