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Teacher’s Guide for High School: Fast Facts For Teachers



Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 440,000 deaths each year. Although major strides have been made in reducing tobacco use among U.S. adults, rates of tobacco use among teens remain high: in 2001, 28.5% of high school students used some form of tobacco.1 Tobacco use and addiction usually begin in adolescence.1,2 Among U.S. adults who ever smoked daily, 82% tried their first cigarette and 53% became daily smokers before 18 years of age. 2,3 The costs associated with tobacco use total more than $150 billion a year—$75.5 billion per year in medical expenses and $81.9 billion in lost productivity.4

Although the behaviors and attitudes of family and friends are the main influences on adolescent decisions to use tobacco, the media—films, television, and the Internet—also influence these decisions.5–8 According to recent studies,

  • Current movie heroes are three to four times more likely to smoke than are people in real life.5,6,9
  • Young people in the United States watch an average of three movies a week, which contain an average of five smoking episodes each, adding up to about 15 exposures to smoking a week. Young people may be exposed to more smoking in movies than in real life.6
  • A teen whose favorite star smokes is significantly more likely to be a smoker.8
  • Approximately two-thirds of films seen today show tobacco use, including films that are rated PG or PG-13 and intended for young audiences.10
  • Films depicting tobacco use are increasing and are reinforcing misleading perceptions that smoking is a widespread, socially desirable, and normal behavior, and they fail to convey the long-term consequences of tobacco use.7

Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!, a project of the American Lung Association of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails in which teens reviewed the 500 top domestic box office movies between 1991 and 2001, reported the following findings in Tobacco Use in the Movies, Annual Report Card 2001:

  • Tobacco was used in 75% of all movies reviewed. Most tobacco use took place in enclosed areas, usually around nonsmokers.
  • 43% of the movies showed scenes in which tobacco use could be interpreted as attractive, with qualities described by teens as sexy, exciting, powerful, cool, sophisticated, rebellious, and celebratory, whereas 27% of the movies included some type of anti-tobacco statement.
  • Top-billed actors, as defined by the Internet Movie Database, lit up in 59% of all movies reviewed.

For more information on this study, visit the following Web site:


Smoke-free air prevents heart attacks! Learn more…
Contact Us:
  • CDC/Office on Smoking and Health
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  • The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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