Efforts to prevent children from smoking are being undermined by federal and provincial subsidies to Hollywood studios, a Canadian doctors' group says.

Studies worldwide show smoking in movies is a powerful way to recruit young people to the addiction, said Neil Collishaw, research director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

The group commissioned a study on the role of films in encouraging smoking called Tobacco Vector that was made public Thursday. 

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Actor Robert Duvall in a scene from the film Thank You for Smoking. Tobacco use in film peaked in 2005 in the U.S., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. ((Dale Robinette/Fox Searchlight/Associated Press))

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its own study Thursday that said tobacco use on the silver screen peaked in 2005 and has declined since.

Last year, about half the number of smoking incidents were depicted in film than four years earlier, the agency said.

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Among movies aimed at children or teens, 61 per cent did not show any smoking at all. But slightly more than half of movies rated PG-13 did show tobacco use, researchers said in the CDC's weekly report on death and disease.

'Stop glamourizing smoking'

In Canada, provincial movie ratings don't protect children as well as U.S. ratings do, said Dr. Chris Mackie, associate medical officer of health at Hamilton Public Health Services.

Many R-rated films in the U.S. are re-rated as 14A or PG in Canada so youth north of the border watch more than two-thirds of the movies that show smoking and U.S. youth see fewer than half, Mackie said.

"We don't want to stop seeing the movies we like, so it's more about making filmmakers care about our health and stop glamourizing smoking in youth-rated movies," said Sal Anania, a member of Youth Advocacy Training Institute, a program of the Lung Association, in a news release. 

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About 15 per cent of Canadians between age 15 and 19 smoke daily, according to Health Canada. ((CBC))

Canadian production tax credits also go to U.S. studios with smoking, said Jonathan Polansky, author of the Tobacco Vector study and a consultant to tobacco prevention agencies and policy research projects internationally.

The study estimated that, over the past five years, provinces and the federal government granted a quarter of a billion dollars to fund Hollywood productions intended for young audiences that featured smoking.

Every dollar in film subsidies may in the end cost Canada $1.70 in societal tobacco losses, the group said.

The Canadian report's authors suggestions included:

  • Changing film-rating systems to ensure youth-rated films do not depict smoking except in historical circumstances.
  • Ending display of tobacco brands in films.
  • Making youth-accessible films that depict smoking ineligible for public subsidies.

About 15 per cent of Canadians between age 15 and 19 smoke daily, Health Canada said in 2008.