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Friday, 5 January, 2001, 01:11 GMT
Ban fails to stop film smoking ads
Cigarettes are still often featured in films
Cigarettes are still often featured in films
Cigarettes are still prominently displayed in films, despite a voluntary ban on "product placements" a decade ago, say researchers.

A study of the top 25 US box office films each year from 1988 to 1997 found the use of actors to promote cigarette brands had increased ten-fold.

The researchers say it is uncertain whether film makers are flouting the ban, or if certain brands are used to add realism to the film.

Anti-smoking campaigners in the UK said they believe the tobacco companies were finding ways around the restrictions.

Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School, New Hampshire, looked at how often the brand name, logo or trademark was seen, and how often actors were seen handling or smoking certain brands.

Celluloid smoking
85% contained tobacco use
28% included tobacco brands
32% of films aimed at teenagers included brand placements compared to 35% of those for adult audiences
They appeared in 20% of children's film
Actor endorsement increased from 1 - 11%of branch appearance
Four US brands made up 80% of appearances

There are as many product placements for top tobacco brands after as before the 1990 ban.

The researchers say the increasing prevalence of just a few brands suggest they are being actively advertised.

The placements reach an international audience, with revenues outside the USA accounting for 49% of the total income for the films studied.


Only one previous study has involved the assessment of tobacco-brand placement. It did not report an increasing trend in tobacco brand use between 1985 and 1995.

Dr James Sargent led the research, which found a quarter of the 250 films studied featured recognisable brands.

Marlboro cigarettes accounted for 40% of the brands depicted in films, including My Best Friend's Wedding, Men in Black and Volcano.

The appearance of cigarette brands in films, especially when endorsed by actors, is no different from other forms of cigarette advertising

Dr James Sargent

One in five films aimed at children had some kind of "brand apppearance", including Home Alone 2 starring Macaulay Culkin, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Dr Sargent said: "The appearance of cigarette brands in films, especially when endorsed by actors, is no different from other forms of cigarette advertising.

"Any country that uses advertising restrictions to control tobacco use should restrict this practice."

Dr Sargent said: "Actor endorsement of a cigarette brand associates a type of person with that brand.

"As viewers assimilate these attitudes towards tobacco use become more favourable."

He said there was concern about the depiction of tobacco use on screen because of the potential effect it could have on teenagers' smoking habits.

Dr Sargent added: "The concern is the same for populations in countries where US tobacco products are heavily marketed, and where people are receptive to the advertising message, for whom films present a seductive, affluent, imaginary world."

Before the 1990 ban, tobacco companies paid tens of thousands of pounds to place their cigarettes in the hands of a film's star.

But the code is only voluntary and does not stop films featuring cigarette brands, just payment for endorsements.

'Finger of suspicion"

Amanda Sandford, research manager for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said: "Although paid product placement of cigarette brands was supposed to have ended in the late 1980s, it looks as though tobacco companies are still using actors to advertise their brands.

Amanda Sandford of ASH:
Amanda Sandford of ASH: "Marketing tool"
"Branded products don't just appear by accident - a lot of planning goes into what products appear in films and who will be using them.

"The finger of suspicion points towards a tobacco industry campaign to get round other marketing restrictions."

She said the presence of tobacco brands in films aimed at children "makes a mockery" of the tobacco industry's claims it is not targeting the youth market.

The research is published in The Lancet.

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