U.S. CDC opines that half of smoking is caused by movies

This is not news, but I want to make sure that a few years from now the extremists are not able to rewrite history and pretend that they never claimed this (as we predict in the Introduction to our 2010 Yearbook).  In an editorial accompanying a study by Stanton Glantz about appearances of smoking in two decades of movies, an anonymous author writing on behalf of the CDC cited as fact several statistics that basically claim that about half of all smoking initiation in the U.S. is caused by seeing smoking in movies.  (The major conclusion of the Glantz study itself was that anti-tobacco extremists have so much money that they cannot figure out what to do with it, so spent a several person-years watching movies.  Ok, that is not actually their conclusion, but it is the most interesting finding.)

So, as soon as smoking is fully eliminated from depictions by Hollywood, we should see smoking rates drop to Swedish levels.  Given this, it is difficult to understand why so much effort goes into worrying about packaging, availability, etc.  Perhaps activists who are trying to reduce gun violence, fistfights, sexual violence, dangerous driving, over-partying, ill-advised romances, and wacky revenge plots should look into this strategy.  Blame Hollywood.  (Hmm, that sound vaguely familiar.)

On a more serious note, this is a further example of doing science that is worthless due to starting with a false premise.  If one assumes that people who become dedicated smokers get no benefit from it then the search for the random series of events that led them down the path to their habit perhaps serves a purpose.  If we assume otherwise, then the whole thing comes across as just plain silly.

As for what Glantz actually concluded: “Further reduction of tobacco use depicted in popular movies could lead to less initiation of smoking among adolescents.”  Of course, there is nothing in this button-counting exercise that supports that conclusion at all.  It is a good thing for him that University of California professors cannot get fired for making claims that go beyond what is supported by their research!


– Carl V. Phillips

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  • Michael J. McFadden  On August 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    A letter to the editor I once wrote on this sort of question:


    Dear Editor,

    Your Dec. 11th article “Smoking should be banned outside…” justifies the proposal by claiming that seeing adults smoke outside is the major factor in causing “children” to smoke.

    Odd. I thought seeing cigarettes on display was the major factor? Or was it TV ads for cigarettes? Ads in Newsweek maybe? Wait! Billboards, that’s it! And sports sponsorships! Hmmm… or was it Joe Camel? Or possibly the pretty colored packaging? Or maybe that people smoke on TV or in the movies? Might have been that the evil tobacco companies put extra nicotine into tobacco plants to addict the children? Or was it that they reduced it so kids wouldn’t get sick on their first few smokes? Or both? Or neither? Or that taxes on cigarettes are too low? Or that they’re too high and have created a black market that doesn’t bother with age ID cards? Maybe it’s stores selling kids cigarettes? Or bars inviting kids to come in and use their vending machines after school? Could it be because smoking is allowed in restaurants where children might go, or in the stripclubs where they hang out after school? Or possibly it’s not enough funding for antismoking groups? Perhaps it’s candy flavored cigars? Hookahs? Bidis? Cloves? E-Cigs? Wait… I know… kids smoke because they buy cartons of cheap cigarettes from Indians over the internet with their credit cards!

    Hmmm… do you get the feeling that the antismoking fanatics will say just about anything they darn well feel like saying in order to get people to vote for whatever it is they want them to vote for today? Maybe that’s why we don’t hear so much about peer pressure today: thar ain’t no money in pushing that particular game.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”


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