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The Application of Social Psychology and Smoking Behaviour

Adapted from part of a Dissertation produced by Stephen Field 18th January, 2002

The mass media is a strong tool in shaping adolescent beliefs about socially acceptable behaviours. Feighery et al (1998) proposed that the recent rise in adolescent smoking is, to some extent, attributable to aggressive tobacco marketing strategies targeted directly at the youth culture. The amount of cigarettes smoked in popular films over the past decade have become significantly more frequent (Stockwell & Glantz, 1997) with estimates suggesting that today's popular films are over three times as likely to include a major character who smokes (Hoffmnan et al, 1997; Gibson & Maurer, 2000).

A review by Chapman (1997) analysed the way in which smoking was depicted within recent films and found there was a shift from previous years as to what type of character would smoke. Results suggested that cigarettes use in these films was not restricted to the sexy and wealthier characters but more so those who are regarded as the 'slacker' characters, an image believed to represent 'Generation X' youth (McCool et al, 2001).

Popular film culture serves as a medium to communicate current fashions, trends and ideologies and as such is  regarded as a major source of youth influence. In a search to find their own image and identity, adolescent youths often replicate what is regarded as favourable in an attempt to raise their level of self esteem by giving them the opportunity to develop a self image that not only they see as desirable but also corresponds with the desires of their friends (Amos et al, 1998). Style therefore becomes a key concern to the youth as they try to emulate their idols by replicating their behaviour. Particularly for women, smoking serves a functional purpose, studies have indicate that teenagers believe smoking can help regulate weight (Perkins, 1993). This belief is central in evaluating an individual's level of self-esteem, as it is perceived by many that a slimmer figure is more socially desirable (Lewis & Donaghue, 1999).

The reasons why an individual may want to start smoking again can be related to this idea of modelling: rather than an individual wanting to emulate a favourable movie due to their smoking behaviour, the teenager may desire the figure that the character may have, believing that such a figure is attainable through the consumption of tobacco. It is also worth noting that these films tend to ignore the negative associations of smoking and almost glamorise those characters that did smoke. Smokers in films were also depicted as being more sexually active than non- smokers and regarded as equally attractive, intelligent and friendly as their non-smoking co-stars (Stockwell & Glantz, 1997).

Popular films are continually criticized for creating a false consensus, in that the frequency of tobacco use is greatly overestimated, they ignore real world differences between smokers and non-smokers and fail to report the negative outcomes of continued smoking (McIntosh et al. 1998). This phenomenon may not be regarded as sheer coincidence. A report by Dutka (1996, in Gibson & Maurer, 2000) found that industry documents suggest that in excess of $350.000 has been paid by various tobacco manufacturers to film producers in an effort to provide exposure for their particular brands. Their efforts have thus led to smoking in films beiing three times more common than in the general population.

Relevant References

Amos, A., Currie, C., Gray, D. & Elton, R (1998). Perception of fashion images from youth magazines: does a cigarette make the difference? Health Education Research,  13, pp491-501.

Chapman, S. & Davis, R M. (1997). Smoking in the movies: is it a problem? Tobacco Control, 6, pp269-271.

Chassin, L., Presson, C. C. & Shannan, S. J. (1990). Social psychological contributions to the understanding and prevention of adolescent cigarette smoking. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, pp133-151.

Gibson, B. & Maurer, J. (2000). Cigarette smoking in the movies: the influence of product placement on attitudes toward smoking and smokers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 30, 7, pp1457-1473.
Hines, D., Saris, R. N. & Throckmorton-Belzer, L. (2000). Cigarette smoking in popular films; does it increase viewers' likelihood to smoke? Journal of Applied  Social Psychology, 30, 11, pp2246-2269.
McCool, J. P., Cameron, L. D. & Petrie, K J. (2001). Adolescent perception of smoking imagery in film. Social Science & Medicine, 52, pp1577-1587.

Mcintosh, W. D., Bazzini, D. G., Smith, S. M. & Wayne, S. M. (1998). Who smokes in Hollywood? Characteristics of smokers in popular films from 1940 to 1989. Addictive Behaviours, 23, pp395-398.
Perkins, K A. (1993). Weight gain following smoking cessation. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 61, pp768-777.   

Stockwell, T. & Glantz, S. (1997). Tobacco use is increasing in popular films. Tobacco Control, 6, pp282-284.





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Last Revised: 20th May, 2003


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