Alcohol and Tobacco Use in
G-Rated Animated Movies

June 22, 2001

What causes someone to use alcohol and tobacco? Why do some people become addicted to drugs? Is drug use learned? Do magazines, TV and movies influence how people use drugs? These are controversial questions without complete answers. However, it is clear that drug use is seen frequently in movies and on TV. For example, one study reported that of the 200 most popular video rentals in 1996 and 1997, 93% of them showed people using alcohol and 89% of them showed actors smoking. Another study of the largest money-making movies between 1988 and 1997 reported that 76.4% of the films showed people smoking. Many of the movies in these studies included those with PG, PG-13 and R ratings...movies that young children usually do not watch. A new study published in Pediatrics (June 2001) investigated how often alcohol and drug use appears in G-rated animated feature films.

In the new study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health watched 81 G-rated videos. Every G-rated animated feature film that was released into theaters between 1937 and 2000 was included in the study. For each film, researchers recorded the number of times alcohol and tobacco were used, the length of time the drug was on the screen and what character used the drug.

In the Movies

The five movies with the most on-screen use of alcohol:
  1. Sleeping Beauty - 174 seconds
  2. Dumbo - 133 seconds
  3. Fantasia - 128 seconds
  4. The Great Mouse Detective - 118 seconds
  5. Beauty and the Beast - 86 seconds
The five movies with the most on-screen use of tobacco:
  1. The Three Caballeros - 629 seconds
  2. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland - 416 seconds
  3. One Hundred and One Dalmatians - 387 seconds
  4. Happily Ever After - 374 seconds
  5. Alice in Wonderland - 323 seconds

The following table summarizes what the researchers found.

ALCOHOL USE TOBACCO USE
# of films38 of 81 films35 of 81 films
% of films47%43%
Duration of use (average)42 seconds/film2.1 minutes/film
Duration of use (range)2 seconds to 2.9 minutes2 seconds to 10.5 minutes

In those films showing the use of alcohol, wine was shown most often, followed by beer, champagne and hard liquor or mixed drinks. "Good" characters were shown drinking alcohol about as often as "bad" characters. In those films showing the use of tobacco, cigar smoking accounted for the most on-screen time, followed by pipe smoking and cigarettes. "Good" characters smoked as often as "bad" characters.

In 40% of the movies with alcohol use, the physical effects of alcohol consumption were shown. For example, some characters staggered, had the hiccups, or got a flushed face. None of the movies carried a health message about the possible consequences of drinking alcohol. In 37% of the movies showing tobacco use, the physical effects of smoking were shown. These effects included coughing or turning green. In three films (Happily Ever After, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, and An American Tail), characters urged others to stop smoking.

The researchers also found that more recent movies showed less alcohol and tobacco use than older movies. Although this is good news, almost none of the films showed that smoking and drinking can have negative health consequences. Although it is controversial whether children who watch movies depicting alcohol and tobacco use are more likely to use these drugs, it may be important to have a more realistic portrayal of drug effects on the body. Cartoons are supposed to be funny, but drug abuse is not.

Reference and further information:

  • Thompson, K.M. and Yokota, F., Depiction of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances in G-rated animated feature films, Pediatrics, 107:1369-1374, 2001.
  • Smoke Free Movies
  • SceneSmoking

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