A virtual movie event on “42,” The Jackie Robinson Story, spurred a lively Instagram Live discussion on multiple tobacco issues affecting our community and nation.

On February 25, Reality Check youth from Western New York joined 100+ youth and community members from across the state to honor #BlackHistoryMonth. After watching the 42, they discussed how the movie hit a home run on tobacco-related topics. 

Tobacco use in movies

“42” includes several smoking scenes, particularly cigar smoking. This gave Reality Check leaders guiding the discussion the opportunity to educate youth on important facts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).


These stats were also shared via social media channels the week preceding the event.


  • Smoking in movies recruits 187,000 new teen smokers every year, and
  • PG-13 films account for nearly 2/3 of the smoking scenes youth see on the big screen.

“The more kids see smoking on screen, the more likely they are to smoke,” said Jonathan Chaffee, Reality Check Coordinator at Tobacco-Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties (TF-CCA) . “There’s no excuse for having smoking in movies that are rated to be sold to kids; we suggest giving an R rating to movies that include tobacco use.”

According to Chaffee, giving an R rating to future movies with smoking would be expected to reduce the number of teen smokers by nearly 1 in 5, preventing up to 1 million deaths from smoking among children alive today.

Black History Month

“42” tells the story of the American legend Jackie Robinson, the first African American major league baseball. That provoked a discussion on racial health disparities.

For more than 60 years, the tobacco industry has been a part of the problem by deliberately targeting the Black community with menthol cigarettes. These products are more addictive, easier for kids to start using and harder for smokers to quit than other cigarettes.

There’s more. To target black demographics, tobacco company Chesterfield used Jackie Robinson in cigarette ads in the 1950s. Athletes were desirable endorsers for cigarettes because they were perceived as healthier than the average citizen.

Teens also discussed how the tobacco industry profited while destroying Black lives and health. In the 1950s, less than 10% of Black smokers used menthol cigarettes. Today, 85% of Black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death among Black Americans. It claims 45,000 Black lives each year, and Black Americans die at higher rates than other groups from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Baseball and Chewing Tobacco

A final discussion topic of “42” and the Instagram Live event was Through With Chew week. This national, week-long event helped educate people about the dangers of smokeless tobacco, also known as chew. Chew has been used by professional athletes for decades. The week of awareness included the Great American Spit Out on February 25, the day tobacco users across America aim to quit.

Want to help get smoking off the screen and out of our kids’ reach? Write a letter (or tweet at) the Motion Picture Association of America and tell them to #RateSmokingR.