Background: The appearance of a cigarette brand in a cinema film gives the brand a certain distinction through its association with the characters and general tone of the film. Through the worldwide distribution of films, brands are promoted globally. We assessed the tobacco-brand appearances in a 10-year sample of contemporary films.
Methods: We viewed the contents of the top 25 US box-office films for each year of release, from 1988 to 1997 (250 films in total). We compared the prevalence of brand appearances for films produced before a voluntary ban on paid product placement by the tobacco industry (1988-90) with films produced after the ban (1991-97). Tobacco-brand appearance was defined as the screen appearance of a brand name, logo, or identifiable trademark on products or product packaging, billboards, store-front advertising, or tobacco promotional items. We defined actor endorsement of a brand as the display of a brand while being handled or used by an actor.
Findings: More than 85% of the films contained tobacco use. Tobacco brands appeared in 70 (28%) films. Brand appearances were as common in films suitable for adolescent audiences as they were in films for adult audiences (32 vs 35%), and were also present in 20% of those rated for children. Prevalence of brand appearance did not change overall in relation to the ban. However, there was a striking increase in the type of brand appearance depicted, with actor endorsement increasing from 1% of films before the ban to 11% after. Four US cigarette brands accounted for 80% of brand appearances. Revenues outside the USA accounted for 49% of total revenues for these films, indicating a large international audience.
Interpretation: Tobacco-brand appearances are common in films and are becoming increasingly endorsed by actors. The most highly advertised US cigarette brands account for most brand appearances, which suggests an advertising motive to this practice.