Context: Tobacco and alcohol use among youth are major public health problems, but the extent to which children are routinely exposed to tobacco and alcohol products in children's films is unknown.
Objective: To identify the prevalence and characteristics associated with tobacco and alcohol use portrayed in G-rated, animated feature films. Design All G-rated, animated feature films released between 1937 and 1997 by 5 major production companies (Walt Disney Co, MGM/United Artists, Warner Brothers Studios, Universal Studios, and 20th Century Fox) that were available on videotape were reviewed for episodes of tobacco and alcohol use.
Main outcome measures: Presence of tobacco and alcohol use in each film, type of tobacco or alcohol used, duration of use, type of character using substance (bad, neutral, or good), and any associated effects.
Results: Of 50 films reviewed, 34 (68%) displayed at least 1 episode of tobacco or alcohol use. Twenty-eight (56%) portrayed 1 or more incidences of tobacco use, including all 7 films released in 1996 and 1997. Twenty-five films (50%) included alcohol use. Smoking was portrayed on screen by 76 characters for more than 45 minutes in duration; alcohol use was portrayed by 63 characters for 27 minutes. Good characters use tobacco and alcohol as frequently as bad characters. Cigars and wine are shown in these films more often than other tobacco or alcohol substances.
Conclusions: More than two thirds of animated children's films feature tobacco or alcohol use in story plots without clear verbal messages of any negative long-term health effects associated with use of either substance.