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Tobacco imagery featured in more Oscar-nominated movies this year, including 70% of Best Picture nominees

Seven of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture at the 2023 Oscars and nearly two-thirds (64.1%) of all this year’s Oscar-nominated feature films contain tobacco imagery, including “Elvis,” “The Fabelmans,” and “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” according to a Truth Initiative analysis. The increase from the number of 2022 Oscar-nominated feature films that contained tobacco imagery – more than half (61%) – underscores a troubling trend of the renormalization and glamorization of tobacco use in entertainment media and pop culture.”

Tobacco imagery remains a common sight in top movies despite established research that exposure to smoking in movies can cause young people to start using tobacco, a conclusion reached more than a decade ago in a 2012 Surgeon General report. At a time when youth e-cigarette use remains a serious public health threat, even youth-rated movies feature tobacco. Of this year’s Oscar-nominated films that are rated and contain tobacco imagery, seven are rated PG-13 and one – “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” – is rated PG. This analysis of 2023 Oscar-nominated movies follows Truth Initiative’s latest report on tobacco depictions across movies, TV shows, and music videos, While You Were Streaming: Tobacco’s Starring Role.

How smoking on screen is linked with youth tobacco use

Smoking, often portrayed as glamorous and edgy, remains pervasive on screen even as research warns that exposure to it can influence young people to start smoking and vaping.

In addition to the research linking exposure to smoking in movies with a higher likelihood of starting to smoke, research also establishes a link between tobacco imagery and vaping. A landmark Truth Initiative study published in Preventive Medicine in 2020 established that exposure to tobacco imagery in popular streaming and TV shows can triple a young person’s odds of starting to vape, a concerning finding given the popularity of e-cigarettes among young people. Over 2.5 million teens use e-cigarettes with nearly half (46%) of high schoolers who vape doing so on a frequent basis, according to the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

According to an independent analysis by NORC at the University of Chicago included in the report While You Were Streaming: Tobacco’s Starring Role, nearly half (47%) of top movies released in 2021 depicted tobacco. These include 17 movies that are youth-rated, such as the PG-rated “The Girl Who Believed in Miracles,” exposing an estimated 24.9 million youth and young adults ages 15-24 to tobacco imagery in top box office movies available on streaming.

Action needed on tobacco imagery in movies

Truth Initiative joins several other public health groups in calling for a comprehensive set of policies to reduce youth exposure to tobacco imagery, including:

  • Urging distributors to develop transparent anti-tobacco policies and ensuring that content creators are aware of these policies
  • Expanding education and outreach within the entertainment industry about the importance of keeping tobacco out of films
  • Showing evidence-based and proven-effective tobacco prevention ads from public education campaigns like truth® to counteract the impact of tobacco imagery in a film
  • Giving an “R” rating to movies with tobacco, which could serve as a financial disincentive to movie makers especially given that 2022 saw the lowest percentage of box office revenue go to R-rated films in over 25 years
  • Ensuring that tobacco companies and their representatives have not paid media companies in exchange for using or showing tobacco products in movies
  • Ensuring that productions that receive state or federal subsidies do not contain tobacco imagery

See our latest report on tobacco imagery on screen, “While You Were Streaming: Tobacco’s Starring Role,” for more details.