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INDIE SPIRIT A scene from `Reservoir Dogs'

INDIE SPIRIT A scene from `Reservoir Dogs'  

Gone are the days when smoking on the big screen was synonymous with elegance and savoir-faire. Now, a new study finds, in most top-rated movies, the guy lighting up may well be a low-life.

Writing in the journal Chest, researchers say a review of the most popular movies since 1990 does not support the notion that movies tend to glamorise smoking. "This study challenges many of the myths about smoking in the movies," wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Karan Omidvari of the Heart and Vascular Institute at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark, N.J.

For the study, researchers in California, New York and Louisiana reviewed 447 movies that were the top 10 weekly box-office draws from 1990 onward. The researchers wanted only films that depicted contemporary life in a fairly realistic fashions, so they did not look at movies rated G, or at science fiction and similar work. The reviewers were asked to record the smoking practices of the five main characters in each film. They found that about 23 percent of those characters smoked — about the same proportion as in the American population. Whites were much more likely to smoke than blacks, 39 percent versus 28 percent.

The study also found that notwithstanding the belief of some anti-smoking advocates, the hero was not the one most likely to have a cigarette dangling from his mouth. The smokers were more likely to be bad guys, or at least characters of lower socio-economic status.

There were exceptions. Whatever their artistic merits, independent films were much more likely to show smoking, and the smokers were more likely to be appealing characters, the researchers found.

This may be related to an "anti-establishment" and a "free-spirited" nature of the indies, the researchers said.

The New York Times

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