smoke free media

Big Tobacco has known the power of the media for decades and has a long history with the entertainment industry. The tobacco industry uses tobacco imagery and brand identification on screen to both normalize and glamorize tobacco use.

Teens consume more media than ever, watching an average of almost 11 hours of media in any given day. The media youth consume is often completely unregulated, giving the tobacco industry direct access to teens’ daily lives.

The tobacco industry uses the media to target youth by having their favorite actors and actresses light up on both television and movie screens. Research shows that the more smoking youth see on screen, the more likely they are to start smoking.

As teens spend more and more time on the web, Big Tobacco spends more and more cash on internet marketing. There are currently no state or federal laws regulating how the tobacco industry markets on the web. This gives the industry free range to target youth in new stealthy ways through buzz/viral marketing.

With anonymous posting as easy as the click of a mouse, the tobacco industry can easily claim innocence while recruiting new replacement smokers for the 1200 Americans they lose daily to tobacco related illnesses.

Reality Check aims to expose the tobacco industry and de-normalize and de-glamorize tobacco use on screen.

To learn more about Reality Check’s work with smoke-free media, check out our Smoke Free Media Guide developed in 2012 by Reality Check Coordinators and Cicatelli Associates.

SFM Guide – downloadable PDF

the facts

Media Consumption

  • In 2010, youth viewed an average of almost 11 hours of media content in a single day.
  • The amount of media teens consume has increased steadily since 2004.
  • 11-14 year olds have higher levels of media consumption than older teens.


  • Smoking in movies recruits 187,000 new teen smokers every year. 60,000 of them will die prematurely due to tobacco related illnesses.
  • The Surgeon General concluded that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and smoking initiation among young people.
  • According to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, there were nearly 1,900 portrayals of smoking and other tobacco usage among the 134 highest grossing films at the box office in 2011.
  • Among youth rated films (G, PG, PG-13), there was a 36 percent increase in “tobacco incidents in 2011.
  • PG-13 films account for nearly two-thirds of the smoking scenes adolescents see on the big screen.
  • The worst movie studio offenders were those studios that had smoke free movie policies in place and had agreed to self-regulate.


  • A 2007 study showed 40% of popular shows viewed by teens 12-17 contained at least one depiction of tobacco use. These shows averaged 4.4 tobacco depictions per hour.
  • More tobacco use is depicted in TV-PG shows (50%) compared to shows with a more mature TV-14 rating (26%).
  • Exposure to tobacco on television is more common in shows targeting young children.
  • In 2001, young teens (12-14) were more likely to report having seen smoking on screen than were young adults (18-24).
  • Studies show that the more smoking teens 10-15 see on TV, the more likely they are to smoke.
  • Nearly all teens (95%) ages 12-17 in the US see tobacco use on television in the context of movie trailers.
  • A 2009 study showed that exposure to movie trailers on television increased the attractiveness of smoking among youth who had experimented with cigarettes.


  • The industry spent over 130 times as much on internet advertising in 2008 as they did in 1998.
  • A 2010 study found that British American Tobacco employees were taking advantage of social networking sites to create fan pages accessible by youth.
  • In 2004, 34.1% of middle school students and 39.2% of high school students reported seeing ads for tobacco products on the internet.
  • Between 2000 and 2004, exposure to pro tobacco messages declined in every channel studied except for the internet.

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