Why is Pennsylvania paying to advertise smoking?

Pennsylvania is one of 11 states that subsidized 93 percent of recent top-grossing movies featuring characters who smoke, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco–and one of seven states that gave  more money to those movies than it spent on tobacco prevention.

According to an ad placed in State Legislatures magazine by SmokeFreeMovies, a project of UCSF professor Stanton Glantz, Pennsylvania subsidized production of 24 movies between 2008 and 2012, of which 16 included smoking. It says the industry got $18 million a year in subsidies from the commonwealth for movies that included smoking, and spent $14 million in 2012 on smoking prevention.

Ad running in the magazine of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Seven states are now spending more subsidizing movies that promote smoking to kids than they are spending fighting smoking,” writes Glantz, director of UCSF’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, in a new post on his blog.

The post comes 50 years after the Surgeon General of the United States released the first Report on Smoking and Health.  It came out on a Saturday to maximize coverage in the Sunday newspapers and, Surgeon General Luther L. Terry recalled, “It hit like a bombshell.” The Surgeon General’s report, drawing from over 7,000 scientific articles and 150 consultants, made clear that significant increases in deaths and illness were the result of smoking.

Tobacco advertising was everywhere in 1964 –on television, radio, magazines, newspapers, signs, and billboards.  A number of the ads featured physicians (take a look; they’d be a hoot if they weren’t so dangerous), with lines like “More doctors smoke camels” and “20,679 Physicians say Luckies are Less Irritating.”  Movies were filled with smoking scenes.

Research has found a direct link between smoking shown in movies and the likelihood that viewers will smoke. Today there are laws restricting tobacco advertising. Yet smoking scenes in movies have become more common recently. They are luring a new generation of teenagers into smoking. And here’s the kicker: 50 years after the Surgeon General’s warning, taxpayers are subsidizing the movies that induce young people to start smoking.

Janet Golden, a Rutgers University history professor, specializes in the histories of medicine, childhood and women.

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