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Original research
Tobacco and tobacco branding in films most popular in the UK from 2009 to 2017
  1. Alexander Barker1,
  2. Jo Cranwell2,
  3. Iona Fitzpatrick3,
  4. Kathy Whittamore1,
  5. Khaldoon Alfayad1,
  6. Amira Haridy1,
  7. Rachael Murray1,
  8. John Britton1
  1. 1 Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2 Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  3. 3 Tobacco Control Research Group (partner in Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products), Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alexander Barker, Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG5 1PB, UK; alexander.barker{at}


Background Exposure to tobacco content in films is a cause of smoking uptake in young people. In an earlier study, we reported that tobacco content occurred in 70% of UK box office films popular between 1989 and 2008. We now report an analysis of tobacco content in a sample of the top grossing UK box office films between 2009 and 2017, and of population exposure resulting from audience exposure to the 2017 films.

Methods Occurrence of tobacco intervals (actual tobacco use, implied use, appearance of smoking paraphernalia or branding) was measured by 5 min interval coding in the 15 most commercially successful films in the UK in each year from 2009 to 2017. A nationally representative survey was used to estimate population exposure to the top 15 films from 2017.

Results We coded 3248 intervals from the 135 films. Tobacco content appeared in 245 intervals (8%, 95% CI 7% to 9%) across 56 (41%, 95% CI 33% to 49%) films. Tobacco content occurred in films in all BBFC age ratings, and 36 (64%, 95% CI 51% to 77%) of films containing tobacco imagery were classified as suitable for viewing by people aged under 15 years. Although less prevalent than in our earlier study, there was no evidence of a secular decline in tobacco content during this study period. The top 15 films from 2017 delivered approximately 21.6 (95% CI 21.06–22.14) million tobacco impressions to young people aged 10–18 years in the UK.

Conclusions Tobacco content continues to appear in UK Box Office films and is widely seen by young people, representing a major driver of smoking uptake.

  • tobacco control

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published Online First. References 27 and 30 have been removed as they do not refer to published work. The references have therefore been reordered to reflect the change. An acknowledgements statement has also been added to the paper.

  • Contributors AB, JC and IF contributed to data collection, analysis and manuscript preparation. KW, KA and AH contributed to data collection. RM and JB contributed to manuscript preparation.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Medical Research Council (grant number MR/K023195/1) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, with core funding from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Health under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. This work was also supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products project funding (

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request. Data on the tobacco content of films included in this content analysis are available from Alexander Barker ( upon reasonable request.