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Design: This study conducted a content analysis of the top 100 grossing films in 2002, with a total global gross of US$12.4 billion.
Outcome measures: Three outcome measures were frequency of smoking incidents, traits of characters who smoke, and consequences of tobacco use.
Results: 6% of characters smoked in 453 incidents, including 3% of children. In 92% of incidences, smoking had no consequences. The most frequent consequence was a verbal reprimand. Although tobacco is a leading cause of preventable deaths globally, only 0.4% of tobacco incidences resulted in death. No deaths were caused by disease. Characters who smoked tended to be major characters playing leadership roles. They tended to be from privileged elites: male, white, and mature.
Conclusions: Films portray characters that smoke as leaders from privileged elites, making smoking more attractive to audience members. Because 99.6% of characters suffer no life threatening consequences from smoking on screen, smokers seem invincible, belying tobacco's role as a leading cause of preventable deaths.