By Film Threat Staff | February 19, 2004

Some press releases speak just fine on their own. So grab a pack of smokes and check this one out.
A virtually smoke-free slate of Best Actor nominees for this year’s Oscars earned a Pink Lung Award in the ninth annual Hackademy Awards, the Academy Awards spoof sponsored by the American Lung Association’s Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! program.
However, nominees for Best Actress received the Hackademy Award for the heavy tobacco use of three of the five nominees. Teen reviewers with Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! also gave Best Picture nominees a Gray Lung. For the most part, the five nominated movies didn’t go out of the way to promote tobacco, but neither did they display a willingness to cut smoking completely.
“None of the Best Picture nominees stand out as deserving of a Hackademy, but at the same time, they certainly weren’t perfect. They all had more than 25 instances of smoking, but the plot lines would not have been any different in any of the films if tobacco had been eliminated,” said Sacramento reviewer Lauralee Brown, 17, of Fair Oaks, Calif.
Individual movies recognized were:
“American Wedding,” which earned a Pink Lung for staying blissfully free of tobacco, even ignoring the old cliche imagery of cigar smoking during a bachelor party.
“Mona Lisa Smile,” which received a Hackademy. There’s nothing to smile about when a movie blatantly links intellectual women with cigarette use, even going as far as displaying particular brands.
Meanwhile, reviewers found better news within the Best Actor category, where Bill Murray’s cigar puffing character from “Lost in Translation” was the lone smoker among five nominees. That included Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” where the swashbuckling movie apparently threw tobacco overboard — a pleasant surprise for reviewers.
“You would expect to see smoking in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ because pirates are dirty and gross, and because of the time period. But it wasn’t there. They easily could have included smoking as a prop, but obviously chose not to,” said reviewer Aimee Nishimura, 17, of Sacramento.
In awarding a Hackademy for the Best Actress nominees, reviewers pointed to Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give” as an example. In the movie, Keaton plays a character who is ardently anti-tobacco at the start of the film and then is seen smoking in Paris, joking that she may as well because, “I’m in Paris. The smoke will kill me anyway.”
Sean Penn turned in a smokeless performance in “Mystic River,” which was otherwise awash with cigarettes and displays of cigarette brands. Reviewers found Penn’s character promising because most past characters played by the star are smokers.
However, the rest of the Hackademys reflected a dismal year, especially for PG-13 movies. A shocking 80 percent of PG-13 movies produced during the past year featured tobacco use, nearly all of it in a positive light, according to a the most recent annual report on tobacco use in movies compiled by Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!
“We’re right back up where we were before, after a significant drop in smoking. It’s the highest since 1995. Total tobacco use in PG-13 movies is skyrocketing,” said Curt Mekemson, a consultant with the American Lung Association of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails.
In awarding the Gray Lung, teen reviewers also mentioned “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” as an example of Hollywood’s stubborn devotion to tobacco as a prop. Even though scenes of pipe smoking were fleeting, they seemed to prove that Hollywood can approach the very edge of making a tobacco-free movie, but in the end just can’t bear to toss smoking away for good.
Reviewers acknowledged that author J.R.R Tolkien’s trilogy contained pipe smoking, but with so much of the original left out of the movie, they wondered why the pipe puffing had to stay.
“Of all the movies this year, “Lord of the Rings” had the greatest reach, drawing millions of adults and kids into theaters. People even wore costumes and modeled behavior after the movie’s heroes. So it’s frustrating for us to see tobacco use given even a tiny role, considering the consequences if kids extend that role-playing into smoking,” said Kori Titus, Director of Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!
Besides “Lord of the Rings,” the other Best Picture nominees are “Lost in Translation,” “Mystic River,” “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” and “Seabiscuit.” “Master and Commander” contained scenes of young sailors smoking pipes and the family-friendly “Seabiscuit” missed few opportunities to display smoking as a part of 1930s life; however, in awarding the Gray Lung, reviewers acknowledged that the subjects of the book smoked in real life.
The Hackademy Awards, a takeoff on the Academy Awards, focus on the effect that tobacco use in movies has on American pre-teens and teenagers. The nearly 10-year-old campaign highlights studies that prove the direct link between smoking in movies and an increased willingness by young people to try tobacco — and get hooked.
It’s estimated that 1,070 children start smoking each day in the U.S. as a result of scenes glamorizing tobacco in movies, according the Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! report, which draws on research from Dartmouth University and Dr. Stanton Glantz of the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine. Of those American children, 340 will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease, a number that will go even higher worldwide given the popularity of U.S. movies overseas.
Major findings in the report also discovered that:
PG-13 movies provide the greatest tobacco exposure to young people.
Leading actors light up in 60 percent of the top box office movies.
According to youth reviewers, pro-tobacco messages are included in 74 percent of movies depicting tobacco use.
“The American Lung Association urges the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to change the rating system to eliminate smoking in new movies intended for children, teens and young audiences,” said John Kirkwood, President and CEO, American Lung Association.
Mekemson said the link between teen smoking and movies has been made clear to the entertainment industry, but that a tremendous amount of work remains in motivating industry members to take action.
“There’s just a great deal of addiction within the entertainment industry culture itself, and I think another reason is that tobacco continues to be perceived as a handy prop,” Mekemson said. “A third reason is the continuing influence of the tobacco industry. Big tobacco has invested billions into creating images of tobacco as sexy, cool and rebellious. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry is still picking up those images, and in the end, kids are picking up cigarettes and cigars.”
Even worse, visuals of specific cigarette brands still make it into many movies, years after public pressure drove the tobacco industry to stop manipulating movie makers into allowing such brand placement. But apparently, the effects of Big Tobacco’s efforts linger on because 10 percent of recently reviewed movies contained scenes showing specific brands, which basically turns the production into a tobacco ad and delivers it to a captive, often young, audience. Marlboro received most of this free advertising.
Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! is funded by a grant from the California Department of Health Services, Proposition 99. For more information about tobacco use in movies, visit

Hey, at least “American Wedding” won some sort of award, right?

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