Antagonists are more likely to smoke than protagonists in movies, according to a quantitative analysis published in the August issue of Chest that contradicts previous studies.
The smoking prevalence was also higher for men, for individuals belonging to lower socioeconomic classes, for white individuals, and for characters in independent and R-rated movies, the study found.
The results contradict the conclusions of other investigators that movies portray smoking as glamorous and positive and that movies are attempting to influence different groups of minorities to smoke, noted lead author Karan Omidvari, MD, of St. Michael's Medical Center.
“We just wanted to see, first of all, the prevalence of smoking in the movies, and we wanted to answer it scientifically without our own biases,” Dr. Omidvari said in an interview.
To quantify the prevalence of smoking in movies, the researchers recorded whether the five leading characters in all top-10 box office movies made after 1990 portraying US society in the 1990s smoked. The movies studied included Armageddon, There's Something about Mary, As Good As It Gets, Independence Day, and Jerry Maguire.
In American movies, smoking prevalence was higher for antagonists, men, individuals belonging to lower socioeconomic classes, white individuals, and characters in independent and R-rated movies, the study found.
Of the 447 movies analyzed, 193 were rated R, 131 were PG-13, and 123 were PG. The researchers excluded animated and science-fiction movies on the theory that those movies were not meant to depict reality.
According to the study, the prevalence of smoking in the movies (23.3%) is the same as the prevalence of smoking in the US population (24.8%). Male characters were more likely to smoke than female characters (25.5% vs 20.5%), and whites were more likely to smoke than nonwhites (23.9% vs 18.6%).
In addition, smoking was more common in antagonists than in protagonists (35.7% vs 20.6%), and smoking incidence increased as socioeconomic class decreased (48.2% for the lower socioeconomic class, 22.9% for the middle class, and 15.7% for the upper class).
Smoking was more common in R-rated movies compared with the general population (37.3% vs 24.8%) and compared with PG-13 (16.2%) and PG movies (8.1%). The highest incidence of smoking occurred in R-rated independent movies (50.6%), compared with a prevalence of 30.5% for R-rated studio movies.