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Movies have come a long way since the days when nearly every actor who appeared onscreen seemed to puff on a cigarette at one time or another.

The number of times cigarettes or tobacco products appear on the big screen has dropped dramatically in the past few years, according to a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday.

In 2005, nearly 3,000 onscreen "tobacco incidents" occurred in youth-rated movies. By 2010, that number had plummeted nearly 72 per cent to just 595 incidents, the report found.

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Despite the gains, smoking in movies continues to be a concern, particularly when it comes to young people.

Research has shown that young people are more likely to take up smoking if they are exposed to depiction of it in movies. Some research even suggests young people with the highest exposure to incidents of onscreen smoking are "twice as likely to begin smoking as those with the least exposure," the report says.

And despite declining smoking rates and the that fact cigarettes are seen as much less socially acceptable than they were a few decades ago, tobacco continues to play a role in movies geared toward a youthful audience.

The report also notes that the appearance of cigarettes or tobacco products in movies varies depending on which motion-picture company is involved.

From 2005 to 2010, three (unnamed) companies with published policies committing to the reduction of onscreen tobacco use managed to decrease incidents by nearly 96 per cent. Companies that did not have written policies only decreased incidents of tobacco use onscreen by 41.7 per cent.

Smoking in movies has long been a point of contention among public-health advocates. Last fall, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada argued that movies that show smoking should have an adult rating so young people won't see them. They also say Canadian governments shouldn't provide tax credits or subsidies to film companies that show smoking in movies.

Numerous organizations, including the World Health Organization, have called for restrictions or a ban on smoking in movies geared toward young audiences.

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Should movie studios be forced to take such measures? Do you believe kids are influenced by what they see onscreen?

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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