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Editor,—The frequency and duration of tobacco-related actions, including cigarette smoking and handling of cigarettes or packs, and purchasing, were measured in 94 episodes of eight series of one-hour television dramas broadcast in Japan by three nationwide commercial stations in 1995 and 1996. These dramas mainly targeted a young audience. The role and sex of smokers and whether their tobacco-related actions had a link with the storyline were also recorded. Tobacco-related scenes that included explicit dialogue regarding smoking or tobacco, or that explained any situation, were classified as having a link with the storyline. For example, an ashtray with many cigarette ends was considered as a cinematic device depicting the passing of time. Inconclusive scenes were classified into this category to avoid recording them as false negatives. None of these drama series were sponsored by tobacco companies although all three stations broadcast cigarette advertising from 10.54 pm to 5 am on weekdays at that time.
The average number of tobacco-related scenes per hour was 4.22, which was much higher than that recorded in previous studies (0.35–1.20) in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s1-3 (table). The most frequent tobacco-related action was cigarette smoking. The frequency and total duration of tobacco-related actions varied greatly among the series of dramas. Not surprisingly, the frequency and total duration of tobacco-related scenes increased when the main actor or actress was a smoker. Although tobacco-related scenes by actresses were much less frequent than those by actors, some dramas featured many female smokers. Approximately 13% of all tobacco-related scenes were classified as having a link with the storyline. Only one tobacco-related scene out of 308 gave an explicitly negative portrayal of smoking.
The relatively high frequency of smoking figures in television dramas would appear to be related to the Japanese social norm which is highly tolerant of smoking. The use of tobacco in television dramas, like that in movies,4 5 would reinforce misleading ideas that smoking is socially acceptable and desirable. It should be possible to decrease tobacco-related scenes in television dramas that target a young audience. Many depictions of smoking are gratuitous and have no link with the storyline. The elimination of smoking in such situations would not affect the storyline. A recent survey6 found that the daily smoking rate in 18-year-old high-school students was 25% (males) and 7% (females). Reducing tobacco-related scenes in television dramas would help change the social norm about smoking, especially among young people.
This research was funded by the Meiji Life Foundation Health and Welfare, Japan.