SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Citing a new study that examines the ties between Hollywood and cigarette makers, health advocates are calling for the film industry to incorporate tobacco as a factor in determining movie ratings.
The study, published Tuesday in the health journal Tobacco Control, said cigarette companies aggressively pursued product placement in films in the 1980s and "undertook an extensive campaign to hook Hollywood on tobacco by providing free cigarettes to actors."
"What it confirms is what we have suspected for quite some time that when stars light up in films ... that can have a powerful influence on people," said study co-author Curtis Mekemson, a health and environmental consultant who specializes in tobacco content in movies.
The study reviewed more than 1,500 previously secret, internal tobacco industry documents made public through the 1998 tobacco settlement.
Under the agreement, the four largest manufacturers — Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard — pledged to make payments for 25 years to reimburse public costs of treating sick smokers.
Before that, under public and government pressure, the film industry adopted a voluntary ban on direct tobacco placement payments in 1989.
Still, tobacco use was featured in nearly 85 percent of the top 25 highest-grossing movies released each year from 1988 through 1997, according to a study released in 2001 by Dartmouth Medical School.
The current film ratings system is administered by the Motion Picture Association of America. The system is designed to offer warning for parents about the content of films, according to the MPAA's Web site. A Los Angeles-based ratings board takes into account theme, violence, nudity, language, sensuality, drug abuse and other elements when assigning a rating, the Web site states.
"We need to institutionalize change, and the best way to do that is through the ratings system," said Kori Titus, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento-area chapter of the American Lung Association.
The two-year study largely was paid for with a grant to the American Lung Association from the California Department of Health Services. Mekemson co-wrote the study with University of California, San Francisco, professor Stanton Glantz.