Smoking in the Movies Spurs Youths to Try It, Dartmouth Study Says

By Vaishali Honawar — November 29, 2005 1 min read

The prevalence of smoking in popular movies is a primary reason 10- to 14-year-olds in the United States start to smoke, a recent study concludes.

The study, which appeared in the Nov. 7 issue of the journal Pediatrics, was done by researchers at the Dartmouth College medical school in Hanover, N.H., and the National Cancer Institute.

They found that the viewing of smoking by characters in movies accounts for smoking initiation among more than one-third of U.S. adolescents who have taken up smoking. It concludes that limiting the exposure of young adolescents to smoking in movies could help reduce that number. Among the suggestions it puts forward is persuading the movie industry to reduce depictions of smoking and cigarette brands, or to incorporate smoking into the movie ratings system.

More than 6,500 children ages 10 to 14 took part in the study. During the phone survey, the children were asked to identify films they had seen from a list of 50 randomly selected titles from a database of 532 movies released in the United States between 1998 and 2000. The researchers found 74 percent of the movies had examples of smoking. Based on the movies each participant had seen, the adolescents were split into four levels of exposure to scenes in which movie characters handled or smoked tobacco.

Adolescents with the most exposure to such scenes were 2.6 times more likely to take up smoking than those with the least exposure.

The researchers concluded that of each 100 adolescents who tried smoking, 38 did so because of their exposure to smoking in movies.

Meanwhile, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, has recommended that states implement additional measures to ensure adolescents are adequately exposed to paid anti-tobacco advertisements as part of smoking-prevention activities.

An Oct. 28 CDC report said exposure of adolescents to such ads has declined since 2002, coinciding with cutbacks in funding by most states for anti-tobacco advertising messages. That decline could have contributed to the lack of a significant drop from 2002 to 2004 in the proportion of adolescents who smoked, the CDC said.