The World Health Organisation made a global call in 2003 to the entertainment industry to stop promoting a product that kills every second regular user and a focus on Hollywood to keep tobacco off the screen, on that note it made “Smoking in Movies” the focus of that year’s World No Tobacco Day. Tobacco use kills about 5million people World wide annually and has been identified as a cancer causing product, the Motion Pictures industry has not been accused of causing cancer but they do not have to promote a product that does.
Images Influence Kids
The influence of television images on kids became a factor that pivoted every presentation made on World No Tobacco Day 2003 and how young people especially are vulnerable to the glamorous images of smoking portrayed in many movies and television programmes. Every claim was backed up by several studies conducted by Researchers in Dartmouth Medical School, U.S.A. which says “kids who watch a lot of movies that show smoking are most likely to start smoking themselves, and have more positive attitudes about smoking”. Also the claim on the rise of smoking in movies especially the PG-13 targeted at impressionable adolescents was also an issue.
In 1998, tobacco companies in the U.S reached a major legal settlement with 46 States not to advertise to minors or pay film companies to use their products in movies and after this agreement it was discovered that tobacco use in movies increased by 50%. (Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, 1998).
Tobacco Deserve an R-Rating
The World Health Organisation is urging film executives to give any film that shows tobacco use an R-rating; which substantially reduces the probability that a kid will see the movie. The movie industry was called upon to take tobacco just as seriously as it takes profanity in movie rating, this does not otherwise mean censorship of movies. It simply means if there are bad things in movies, it should be properly labelled.
Tobacco continues to kill globally and films have a crucial role in promoting its use, say WHO. In India, a high number of deaths have been traced to tobacco use which has been made popular through movies and cinema. This has solely been blamed on Bollywood’s relationship with tobacco companies according to ‘Bollywood: Victim or Ally report’ conducted by the Tobacco Free Initiative of the World health Organisation (WHO) 2003. It was reported that in India, tobacco causes 800,000 deaths every year i.e. 2,200 people die each day, 90 die every hour out of the nearly 1 billion population of India.
It is also on record the damage done to the American society by tobacco marketers and producers who had a close working relationship with Hollywood to glamorise tobacco. This they were able to do using Hollywood, being the largest motion picture industry in the world until the legal settlement that 46 States in the U.S collectively signed with the tobacco companies on advert prohibition to minors. On realising the defeat they had suffered in the U.S court verdict and the effects it has on their sales and overall revenue, the tobacco companies leveraged on the ignorance of Bollywood of India being the second largest movie producers in the world. This resulted to so many deaths in India according to an earlier highlighted statistics before the intervention of anti-tobacco experts and advocates that led to the checkmating and prohibitions the tobacco companies suffered in India.
The Nollywood (the Nigerian movie industry), being the third largest movie market in the world had suddenly become the focus and we all can testify on how tobacco usage in our movies had gained popular acceptance at the peril of the teaming population of our youths who are potential smokers. Our actors and actresses are seen by this growing number of youths as role models and supermen and whatever they do is the seemingly right thing in the mind of these youths and if positive steps are not taken to educate the movie producers on the negative effects tobacco usage in movies has on the viewers, we might just be having a repeat of what happened in India and America.
Nigeria being a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the international treaty signed by Member-States of the United Nations and the European Community requires them to restrict advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products and outlaw smoking in public places, tobacco advertising and sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies. We cannot fold our hands to watch tobacco companies and their products work contrary to what we as a Nation are a signatory to. This may on the long run ruin the lives of our youths and our tomorrow leaders who the tobacco companies have made their target to remain in business.
Some tobacco effects on the Nation of India
India has a population of 1billion people with 250 million tobacco users. India is a major target by tobacco companies because of the vast population growth and it offers the biggest market to tobacco companies after Brazil.
Out of the 250 million tobacco users recorded in India, as many as 199.2 million people are between the ages 15-24, and this group is projected to grow to 231 million by 2013.
It has been recorded that one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in India today - heart disease, loss of breathing capacity (Emphysema) and cancer – which cost the country $5.5billion in 1999, is smoking. In contrast, the nationwide sales revenue of all tobacco products for that year was $4.88billion. Tobacco related diseases cost the country $2.7billion through the loss of productivity alone.
The tobacco companies only source of replacing smokers is to try and rope in thousands of younger adults and school children who they make sure light cigarette the first few times and thus get them hooked. If it fails to do that, big tobacco companies will start to die. It is like population that does not give birth which gradually dies a natural death.
Prof. Stanton Glantz, an America Smoke Free Movies Campaigner and Anti Tobacco Activist describes how over 40 years the tobacco industry knew nicotine was an addictive substance and it causes cancer, and yet withheld this information from the public.
The World Health Organisation has always preached the harmful effect of tobacco on young people and Nigeria being a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), advertising tobacco product is illegal. The WHO study has shown that smoking in films is an insidious form of advertisement as people, especially the youth, tend to emulate their film idols and take up to smoking.
Statements credited to Philip Morrison
The article quotes excerpts from several documents, among them a 1989 Philip Morris marketing plan which said: "We believe that most of the strong, positive images for cigarettes and smoking are created by cinema and television. We have seen the heroes smoking in Wall Street, Crocodile Dundee and Roger Rabbit. Mickey Rourkey, Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn are forever seen, both on and off the screen, with a lit cigarette. It is reasonable to assume that films and personalities have more influence on consumers than a static poster of the letters from a B&H (Benson and Hedges) pack hung on a washing line under a dark and stormy sky. If branded cigarette advertising is to take full advantage of these images, it has to do more than simply achieve package recognition - it has to feed off and exploit the image source."
Another document, a draft speech prepared for the president of Philip Morris International to be read at a company international meeting, says: "Recently, anti-smoking groups have also had some early successes at eroding the social acceptability of smoking. Smoking is being positioned as an unfashionable, as well as unhealthy, custom. We must use every creative means at our disposal to reverse this destructive trend. I do feel heartened at the increasing number of occasions when I go to a movie and see a pack of cigarette in the hands of the leading character. This is in sharp contrast to the state of affairs just a few years ago when cigarettes rarely showed up in cinema. We must continue to exploit new opportunities to get cigarettes on screen and into the hands of smokers."
A 1981 memo from a researcher from the same company (quoted elsewhere) says: "Today's teenager is tomorrow's potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens.... The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Philip Morris."