The image of cigarette-smoking James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” popularized tobacco use among youths. More than 50 years later, research shows that tobacco has become increasingly visible on the silver screen, making smoking seem more enticing, particularly for young people.

CDC smoking ad

A joint print advertisement, supported by APHA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other partners, appears today in Variety and Hollywood Reporter. Photo by Smoke Free Movies

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released new data of smoking occurrences portrayed in the top-grossing American movies of 2011. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found that tobacco use in the year’s top-10 box office movies rose 7 percent from 2010, ending five years of declining rates.

According to the agency, “youths who are heavily exposed to onscreen smoking are approximately two to three times as likely to begin smoking as youth who are lightly exposed.”

In a 2012 report on American tobacco use, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin concluded that cigarette smoking among youth and young adults is declining at a lower rate than in previous years, while smokeless tobacco use has not declined at all.

The CDC report states that three major motion picture companies — Time Warner, Comcast and Disney —  had policies aimed at reducing tobacco use in their movies between 2005 and 2010, and reduced onscreen use by 95.8 percent during the five-year span. As of June 2012, none of the companies had policies against including smoking or other tobacco imagery in its movies.

A joint print advertisement supported by APHA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other partners appears today in Variety and Hollywood Reporter. Launched by Smoke Free Movies, the ad calls for onscreen tobacco use to be restricted to R-rated movies.

“We all have a responsibility to prevent youth from becoming tobacco users, and the movie industry has a responsibility to protect our youth from exposure to tobacco use and other pro-tobacco imagery in movies that are produced and rated as appropriate for children and adolescents. Eliminating tobacco imagery in movies is an important step that should be easy to take,” the ad reads.