Road and Rubber Continue to Meet

The metaphor here is “When the rubber meets the road” — in this case meaning, what happens when the aspirational meets the pragmatic? Smoking used to be everywhere, but has gone underground, and now is seen almost nowhere. How did this happen? Through legislation with teeth. Can compulsive overeating be vanquished by the same kind of laws? Maybe, but not without a lot of protest.

“Smoking, Eating, and Official Disapproval”

Meanwhile, who would have guessed that either smoking or obesity could become so threatening to one’s livelihood? When employers and insurers get serious about limiting their health costs, the first thing they look at is curbing bad habits that cause medical consequences, and job security is a thing of the past.

Activists had good success in vanquishing smoking from hospitals, and it has encouraged those who see junk food as dangerous to try ridding hospitals, or at least children’s hospitals, of vending machines and branches of fast-food outlets.

The other area where anti-smoking coercion has really worked is in advertising, in certain venues and among certain age groups. But in movies, although brand-related smoking went down, the amount of smoking in movies went up. The only difference is now, cash-strapped filmmakers can’t make a few extra bucks by throwing a paid endorsement up on the screen.

Another smoking in films study

There are things the government cannot do by force, or would be unacceptably criticized for doing, but which can be accomplished through negotiation. After a 1989 agreement to end payments for the placement of tobacco brands in films, researchers watched 250 movies from both before and after, and published their observations in The Lancet:

Prevalence of brand appearance did not change overall in relation to the ban. However, there was a striking increase in the type of brand appearance depicted, with actor endorsement increasing from 1% of films before the ban to 11% after.

In other words, there were fewer brand appearances on film sets. Scenes included fewer billboards and store windows that contrived to show recognizable cigarette brand logos. But this reduction was compensated for by an increase in “actor endorsements,” or scenes in which an identifiable brand was smoked by an actor. For some reason, just cutting out the payment element did not accomplish much.

If talks comparable to those of 1989 were initiated to keep depictions of food out of movies, what exactly would be eliminated? Would there be no more family holiday meals on film? No scenes in restaurants or coffee shops? And wouldn’t the food industry just put a cold stop to any such idea by suggesting that first, before coming after them, the government should insist that all depictions of alcohol consumption should be expunged from movies? And maybe, since it is public safety that we purport to be concerned about, all cinematic violence should also be expunged.

That argument would surely lead to several years of litigation and the expenditure of millions of legal fee dollars, to be eventually recouped from the movie audiences. The notion of removing eating from movies, how exactly would that pan out? And would it ultimately do more good than harm?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Brand appearances in contemporary cinema films and contribution to global marketing of cigarettes,”, January 2001
Photo credit: on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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