Strong anti-smoking ads

Policy solution | Studios and theaters should run a proven-effective anti-smoking ad — not one produced by a tobacco company — before any film with any tobacco presence, in any distribution channel, regardless of its age rating.

What it will do | In 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded, "Experimental studies provide strong and consistent support for the idea that an antismoking advertisement shown before a movie that contains smoking scenes influences how moviegoers view smoking and react to it." Spots will help mitigate kids’ exposure to smoking in R-rated films, after smoking is all but eliminated from youth-rated films.

How it works | In 2009, the six major studios agreed to license anti-smoking ads produced by the State of California for use on their youth-rated DVDs with smoking distributed in the U.S. and Canada. Time Warner also included the spots on its R-rated DVDs with smoking. The studios covered the residual payments for re-using the spots on their videos. 

Unfortunately, in  2015, Sony and Time Warner did not renew their agreements with State of California. Time Warner produced its own low-budget spots, which no other studios picked up. By 2017, no major studio was using properly vetted anti-tobacco spots, from any source.

This backsliding needs to be reversed.

To use anti-tobacco ads in other channels — movie theaters, broadcast, cable and satellite, Blu-ray, and streaming — studio-distributors need only stipulate in their licensing agreements that a strong anti-smoking spot be inserted before the film. In many cases, the studio would be making an agreement with its own parent company, which also owns broadcast, streaming, and home video services.

Public health agencies and organizations have placed strong anti-tobacco spots in movie theaters across the U.S. and in Ontario, Canada. Research suggests that showing spots has no effect on box office or the willingness of moviegoers to recommend a film to friends.

Summary | Anti-smoking spots complement the R-rating of future movies with smoking, because young people will continue to see R-rated films. With more ways than ever to watch movies, anti-smoking spots must precede films with tobacco imagery in all media. Who should pay the costs? The companies that distribute entertainment with toxic tobacco content owe it to their young audiences.

More resources

Anti-tobacco spots research

Strong anti-smoking spots include: