Tobacco and tobacco branding in films most popular in the UK from 2009 to 2017

Thorax. 2020 Dec;75(12):1103-1108. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-214743. Epub 2020 Sep 17.


Background: Exposure to tobacco content in films is a cause of smoking uptake in young people. In an earlier study, we reported that tobacco content occurred in 70% of UK box office films popular between 1989 and 2008. We now report an analysis of tobacco content in a sample of the top grossing UK box office films between 2009 and 2017, and of population exposure resulting from audience exposure to the 2017 films.

Methods: Occurrence of tobacco intervals (actual tobacco use, implied use, appearance of smoking paraphernalia or branding) was measured by 5 min interval coding in the 15 most commercially successful films in the UK in each year from 2009 to 2017. A nationally representative survey was used to estimate population exposure to the top 15 films from 2017.

Results: We coded 3248 intervals from the 135 films. Tobacco content appeared in 245 intervals (8%, 95% CI 7% to 9%) across 56 (41%, 95% CI 33% to 49%) films. Tobacco content occurred in films in all BBFC age ratings, and 36 (64%, 95% CI 51% to 77%) of films containing tobacco imagery were classified as suitable for viewing by people aged under 15 years. Although less prevalent than in our earlier study, there was no evidence of a secular decline in tobacco content during this study period. The top 15 films from 2017 delivered approximately 21.6 (95% CI 21.06-22.14) million tobacco impressions to young people aged 10-18 years in the UK.

Conclusions: Tobacco content continues to appear in UK Box Office films and is widely seen by young people, representing a major driver of smoking uptake.

Keywords: tobacco control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Advertising / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • Humans
  • Motion Pictures / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Motion Pictures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Motion Pictures / trends
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Products*
  • Tobacco Use* / trends
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology