F1 film Rush: Call to show the truth about smoking

Thursday 05 September 2013

Rush – the new film about the 1970’s Formula One rivalry between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda – is a sharp reminder of how the tobacco industry used sport to recruit new young smokers. The cars are plastered with Marlboro and John Player Special logos and colours while smoking is commonplace both indoors and out throughout the film. [1]

To counter the inevitable tobacco imagery shown in the film, health campaigners in the UK are calling for warning ads about the health impact of smoking to be shown in advance of the film.

Rush will remind older viewers of how the tobacco industry dominated Formula One motor racing until cigarette sponsorship was outlawed in 2005. Younger viewers will be surprised at the extent of such blatant advertising of a deadly and addictive drug splashed on the sides of the cars and drivers’ clothing. Today, tobacco companies are only able to promote their brands through the design of cigarette packs – a form of promotion that would end if standardised packaging were introduced by law.

The film shows how far we have come since the days when cigarette manufacturers shamelessly promoted their brands through sport. The sub-text of the companies’ near monopoly of F1 sponsorship was that their brands were as alluring and exciting as the sport itself. And it worked. Evidence shows that children were more likely to start smoking after being exposed to tobacco imagery through advertising and sponsorship. [2] There is also good evidence to show that smoking in films encourages young people to start. [3]

ASH acknowledges that tobacco sponsorship was a major part of F1 sport in the 1970s and therefore it is not surprising that tobacco imagery appears in the film. However, ASH is also calling on the film industry to require the showing of anti-smoking advertisements to be shown in advance of any film containing smoking as there is evidence to show that this will help inoculate young people against the harmful effects of tobacco promotion in films. [4]

ASH Chief Executive Deborah Arnott commented:

“Films such as Rush reflect a time when tobacco advertising and sponsorship was commonplace. We have come a long way since then but smoking is still shown frequently in today’s films. There is good evidence that smoking in films leads to young people taking up smoking and the film industry needs to realise its culpability in making that happen.

“This is not a trivial matter: half of all smokers will die of their addiction so it’s crucial that measures are taken to counteract the promotion of smoking in onscreen entertainment.”

Notes and Links
[1] The film has a 15 certificate. It is due for release in the UK on 13th September 2013.
[2] See for example: Lovato, C et al. Impact of tobacco advertising and promotion on increasing adolescent smoking behaviours. Cochrane Library, 2004
[3] The 2012 US Surgeon General’s report concluded that “Those who get the most exposure to onscreen smoking are about twice as likely to being smoking as those who get the least exposure.” Preventing tobacco use amongst youth and young adults. CDC
[4] Research shows that anti-smoking spots screened before films can neutralise the pro-tobacco influence that smoking in films has on young audiences. See for example:
Edwards Ca et al. Out of the Smokescreen: does an anti-smoking advertisement affect young women’s perception of smoking in movies and their intention to smoke? Tobacco Control 2004; 13: 277-282
Hanewinkel et al. Effect of an antismoking advertisement on cinema patrons’ perception of smoking and intention to smoke: a quasi-experimental study. Addiction 2010 105(7):1269-77.
Edwards et al. Out of the smokescreen II: will an advertisement targeting the tobacco industry affect young people’s perception of smoking in movies and their intention to smoke?Tob Control 2007;16:177-181 doi:10.1136/tc.2006.017194