SAN FRANCISCO--The movie critics Siskel and Ebert rate good movies with
a "thumbs up" sign and bad ones with "thumbs down."
Now, the Sacramento-Emigrant Trails Affiliate of the American Lung Association
(ALA) is using these symbols to rate movies and TV shows in their portrayal
Productions devoid of tobacco usage and advertising and those containing
antismoking directives earn a thumbs up, while those depicting active smoking
or glimpses of a particular brand of cigarettes or a Joe Camel billboard
get a thumbs down.
Oscars, Emmys, and 'Phlemmys'
The Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! program also engages in publicity activities,
including the "Hackademy Awards and the Phlemmys." They coincide
with the Academy Awards and Emmys and are presented to features in which
tobacco is used or advertised. To reward positive films and TV programs
that show minimal tobacco use or carry antitobacco messages, the group
also awards a "Pink Lung."
In 1996, Pink Lungs went to the television series Frasier and The X-Files,
while, ironically, a show in which physicians are the main characters,
Chicago Hope, received the Phlemmy.
The 1996 Pink Lung for best movie went to Babe, a family film in which
neither the talking animals nor the human actors used tobacco.
Speaking at a panel session at the American Thoracic Society/American
Lung Association International Conference, Trisha Gibson, program manager
for Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!, said that "our main objective is to educate
and inform the public, generally, and teenagers, particularly, about tobacco
messages that are being aimed at them." Added Curt Mekemson, project
consultant: "Our aim is to take action to reduce the glamorization
of tobacco use in movies, television, and videos."
When Congress banned cigarette advertising on TV in 1970, tobacco companies
turned their attention to other means of attracting customers--and the
entertainment industry proved accommodating. A study published in the American
Journal of Public Health showed that movie heroes are three times more
likely to smoke than Americans in real life.
While major strides have been made in reducing tobacco use among adults,
young people have continued to smoke at the same rate for the past decade.
Said Mr. Mekemson: "One of the powerful ways young people receive
information on tobacco is through watching movies, TV, and music videos.
When you see an advertisement, you know it is an advertisement, but when
you see your favorite actor or actress enjoying a smoke, there is no warning
about tobacco use, and young people receive the message that tobacco use
is okay and desirable."
Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!--a joint project of the Sacramento ALA affiliate,
the ALA of Los Angeles County, and the national ALA--is funded by California's
Tobacco Health Protection Act of 1988, popularly known as Proposition 99,
which placed a tax on tobacco products and raises roughly $80 million a
year for prevention efforts.
The project butts up against many obstacles, but the most daunting are
the traits and practices already ingrained in the entertainment industry.
Directors rely upon set forms: The wealthy person flaunts a cigar; the
rebellious teenager lights up a cigarette (smoking under a "No Smoking"
sign symbolizes the height of defiance); women bucking the system, as in
The First Wives Club, light up cigarettes or cigars. The cigar,
in fact, has become the universal symbol of reward.
Program Uses Teenage Reviewers
Using the slogan "Watch What You're Watching!" the project
is recruiting young people to become critical viewers. Teenagers conduct
evaluations of movies, videos, and TV shows using a guide that weights
and quantifies various infractions (eg, two people smoking is worse than
one; a fleeting shot of a tobacco display in a store window rates less
than a person lighting up under stress).
Reviewers must be over 15 years of age and have their parents' consent.
They are reimbursed for the cost of their movie tickets and video rentals.
The program evaluates more than 130 movies a year. In 1995, 23% of movies
reviewed had no tobacco in evidence; 26% had 1 to 10 incidents; 23% had
11 to 14 incidents; 18% had 25 to 49 incidents; and 11% had more than 50
Interestingly, while only 3% of the US population smokes cigars, 52%
of movies showed people smoking cigars. In 82% of movies displaying tobacco
use, the user was the lead and/or supporting actor.
Movies displayed about five times as much tobacco use as TV. However,
women smoked more on TV than in movies. Of 238 TV episodes evaluated, 202
(85%) had no tobacco use. In episodes including tobacco, 67% had cigarette
use, 42% cigar use, and 3% pipe use.
The program also encourages teens to write or e-mail key people in the
entertainment industry to express their concern over how tobacco is portrayed
on the screen. "Our aim is to raise the level of awareness,"
Mr. Mekemson said. "We have become a loud, if not the main, voice
telling the world what is happening in movies and TV."
The ultimate goal is to convince the entertainment industry that it
is to their advantage, and the benefit of the public, to eliminate the
glorification of tobacco in their productions.