Movies put smoking in a bad light

Smokers in U.S. movies are more likely to be villainous or poor than heroic or wealthy, according to a study in the August Chest.

Karan Omidvari, a physician at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, N.J., and his colleagues recorded the smoking habits of the five main characters in each of 447 movies made during the 1990s, including such hits as Independence Day and There’s Something about Mary. The researchers excluded science fiction and animated features because they typically aren’t intended to represent reality, says Omidvari. The investigators also didn’t count a character as a smoker if the smoking was depicted in a flashback or another scene that didn’t occur in the present day.

Overall, 48 percent of cinematic smokers appeared, by the viewer’s judgment, to be from a low socioeconomic class, while 23 percent seemed middle-class and 11 percent seemed to be upper-class. The other movie smokers weren’t readily categorized.

Only 21 percent of protagonists smoked, while 36 percent of their adversaries did. Omidvari, who didn’t receive outside funding for the study, says that it could be welcome news that Hollywood tends to depict smokers as unsympathetic characters.

However, in R-rated and independent films, smoking was more prevalent than it is in the U.S. population as a whole.

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