The purpose of the survey, conducted by the independent research firm E-Poll, was to determine for entertainment creators and performers whether their intent to use smoking as a universal symbol for communicating character traits actually results in consistent interpretations by audiences.
One of the survey's more controversial findings was that there was no such universal trait attributed through smoking. "This refutes arguments by creative types who have long justified on-screen smoking as a tool to add dimension to characters. Whether it be negative or positive," said Larry Deutchman, EIC Sr. Vice President, Marketing and Industry Relations. "Smoking is no longer the storytelling shortcut we once thought in that there is no consistency as to what smoking says about a character to audiences."
One of the most surprising results of the survey was that non-smoking characters, when paired with those who smoke, were judged in a more negative light than when paired with other non-smoking characters.
The survey was conducted among an audience of 751 smokers and nonsmokers who were randomly shown one of several film clips. The dialogue for each of the clips was identical, while the age, gender, and characters' habits (smoking or non-smoking) changed from clip to clip.
"EIC's intent in conducting the survey is not to criticize actors or creators for using tobacco in films and TV shows, but rather to encourage them to be less reliant on smoking to define their characters when other behaviors might suffice," said Deutchman.
EIC recognizes the accurate depiction of tobacco and other substance use and addiction through its annual PRISM Awards. EIC is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 by the entertainment industry to lead the industry in bringing its power and influence to bear on health and social issues. Its webiste is located at www.eiconline.org.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a partner in the PRISM Awards, based in Princeton, New Jersey, is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. Its goal areas include: to reduce the presonal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse tobacco.