Movie Smoking May Encourage Teens to Become Adult Smokers
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A school-based survey in New Hampshire in 1999 found that teens most exposed to characters smoking in the movies were more likely to start smoking. Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School wanted to determine if the increased rates of exposure to movie smoking also increased the rate of established or regular smoking in teens. The study, published in Pediatrics, found that the higher the level of movie-smoking exposure, the higher the chance of the teen becoming an established smoker.
About the Study
The follow-up survey for this study was given to the teens 7-8 years after the 1999 study. This survey only focused on the total number of cigarettes the teens had smoked. If a teen had smoked more than 100 cigarettes, it was defined as established smoking. The risk of established smoking increased as movie exposure increased. When compared to the teens with the least smoking movie exposure (level 1):
- Teens in level 2 were 1.5 times more likely to become established smokers.
- Teens in level 3 were 2.2 times more likely to become established smokers.
- Teens in level 4 (highest movie smoking exposure) were 2.9 times more likely to become established smokers.
There are other factors that have been shown to influence teen smoking such social pressures, sensation seeking, self-esteem, and parental education and disapproval. Even after accounting for these influences, movie exposure still had a significant effect on teen smoking.
How Does This Affect You?
Smoking is deadly. No one should do it. If an adolescent can make it through high school without picking up the habit, they are very unlikely to start later on, particularly if they attend college. However, children who begin smoking regularly are at extremely high risk of becoming lifelong smokers. Anything that can be done to safely and effectively prevent teens from smoking ought to be done.
One approach, based on studies like this, attempts to limit the exposure of teens to risk factors for smoking initiation. While a variety of groups are working to decrease the amount of smoking images in media directed at youth, it is unrealistic to believe that children will never be exposed to smoking images. Other methods are necessary. The importance of direct and frequent communication with your child about the dangers of smoking cannot be overemphasized. Talk to your child about images seen in ads or movies, the dangers of smoking, and ways to handle peer pressure. This will only work, of course, if you don’t smoke yourself. If you do smoke and have had trouble quitting, there’s no better motivation than the health of your child.
American Heart Association
American Lung Association
National Cancer Institute
Dalton MA, Beach ML, Adachi-Mejia AM, Longacre MR, Sargent JD, Titus-Ernstoff L. Early exposure to movie smoking predicts established smoking by older teens and young adults. Pediatrics. 2009 Apr 23;123(4):551-558.
Last reviewed June 2009 by
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