Tobacco imagery rising in top entertainment, including among the 2024 Best Picture winner and nominees

Posted: March 18, 2024 | Word Count: 1,083

To find a smoke-free setting among this year’s Oscar Best Picture nominees, you’d have to go to Barbie Land. Of the 10 films nominated for the Oscars top prize — including winner "Oppenheimer" — all except “Barbie” feature smoking, according to Truth Initiative’s sixth annual analysis of tobacco imagery in top entertainment, which finds an increase in on-screen tobacco use across the most popular streaming shows among 15- to 24-year-olds, music videos, as well as youth-rated and Oscar-nominated movies.

On-screen smoking, which is often glamorized and portrayed as edgy and cool, is rising despite well-established research that it influences young people to start using tobacco products — a conclusion reached more than a decade ago in a 2012 Surgeon General report. In addition, research from Truth Initiative has also found that exposure to smoking imagery in streaming shows can triple a young person’s odds of starting to use e-cigarettes — today’s top tobacco product among young people.

This year's nine Oscar-nominated Best Picture films featuring smoking, which marks an increase from last year’s seven out of 10, include winner “Oppenheimer,” and nominees “Maestro,” “The Holdovers,” “American Fiction,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Poor Things,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “The Zone of Interest,” and “Past Lives.” Moreover, 23 out of 24 of this year’s Oscars awards were awarded to movies that contained smoking. The only winner not including smoking was Barbie’s “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish in the Best Song category. Tobacco continues to be center stage at awards like the Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmys year after year, garnering prestige and media attention, increasing viewership for films and TV shows, and amplifying the negative impact of on-screen tobacco use on young viewers.

A problem across top entertainment

In addition to films, this year’s report, “Lights, Camera, Tobacco?,” found troubling trends across entertainment media including movies, streaming content, social media and music videos. The number of tobacco depictions in top shows among 15- to 24-year-olds increased by 110% between 2021 and 2022, exposing an estimated 25 million young people to tobacco imagery. The report also found that tobacco imagery in top binge-watched shows nearly quadrupled, and twice as many music videos for the most popular songs contained images of tobacco. This puts tobacco imagery on repeat for many young people, ultimately increasing exposure and risk. As young people increasingly consume video content via social platforms (nine in 10 U.S. teens say they use YouTube, the top social media platform) a Truth Initiative study currently underway also finds that more than a third of 15- to 24-year-olds surveyed who used YouTube, TikTok and Twitch reported exposure to tobacco imagery.

Tobacco product use among young people remains a serious public health concern, with more than 2 million middle and high school students using e-cigarettes in 2023, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey. Nicotine harms developing adolescent brains and may make young people more susceptible to addiction later in life, and nicotine addiction can also increase stress and intensify feelings of depression and anxiety, a growing concern given the Surgeon General’s report about the worsening national youth mental health crisis. And among young adults, there is high prevalence of dual use of e-cigarettes and cigarettes.

More than half of the streaming shows most popular among young people featured tobacco imagery

The latest data on tobacco imagery in streaming shows in 2022 are alarming: More than half (8 out of 15) of the streaming shows most popular with 15- to 24-year-olds contained tobacco imagery. Even more troubling, the number of tobacco depictions among these shows more than doubled between 2021 and 2022. Half of the shows were rated TV-14, appropriate for youth, and two featured tobacco use by minors.

The increase in smoking among the top 15 shows was driven largely by Netflix’s Golden Globe-winner “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” which contained a third of all tobacco depictions. Other shows popular among youth featuring tobacco imagery included “Euphoria” (HBO), “The Simpsons” (Fox), “Stranger Things” (Netflix), “The Walking Dead” (AMC), “Family Guy” (Fox), “Bob’s Burgers” (Fox) and “Law & Order” (NBC). Two of these also featured tobacco use by minors.

Six out of seven networks (Netflix, FOX, HBO, AMC, CW and FX) all increased tobacco imagery in 2022. BBC One joined the list as top offender due to hit show “Peaky Blinders,” and Netflix, a reoccurring top offender, followed closely in second. Netflix more than doubled tobacco imagery in 2022 compared to the previous year, as did Fox, which rounded out the top three. Despite a 2019 pledge to eliminate tobacco in original, youth-rated shows and movies that are not historical, Netflix continues to include depictions in shows popular with young people, such as “Cobra Kai,” which is rated TV-14. Subscription services like Amazon Prime video, Hulu, Apple TV and even Disney+ are also amplifying reach.

More must be done to protect young people from on-screen tobacco imagery

Tobacco imagery has been stubbornly present in media most popular with youth, despite years of research tying on-screen tobacco depictions with youth tobacco use. While some studios and networks have worked to reduce tobacco imagery in their programming, the continued inclusion of tobacco in PG-rated films and skyrocketing tobacco use in streaming shows, music videos, and on social media platforms continues to expose too many young people to tobacco, putting them at risk of nicotine addiction.

The entertainment industry must recognize its power as well as its responsibility to change the picture, and not be unwitting spokespeople for the tobacco industry. More needs to be done to urge decision makers at all levels, including entertainment executives, leaders of streaming platforms and broadcast networks, showrunners, directors, writers, actors and music artists, to denormalize tobacco use and eliminate it on screens most popular with young people, including:

  • Expanding education and outreach to ensure stakeholders including directors, writers and producers understand the importance of keeping tobacco out of shows;
  • Informing actors of the power they wield when they use tobacco on screen, as actors rejecting smoking and vaping on screens would send a powerful statement;
  • Continuing the use of anti-tobacco and anti-vaping messaging before and after shows featuring tobacco imagery and featuring specific messages demonstrating the harmful effects of increasingly popular e-cigarette products;
  • Implementing a robust ratings system that ensures that titles with smoking are listed as TV-MA or R, which has the potential to reduce young people’s exposure to tobacco.

To read the full report and learn more, visit

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