July 10, 2012

Teens Influenced By Smoking Scenes

Connie K. Ho for - Your Universe Online

Flick on the television screen any given moment, a movie will most likely be playing. Log online, there will be a number of other film options. Suffice to say, entertainment is everywhere these days. Interesting enough, researchers recently discovered that young adults who watch many movies with characters who smoke, whether those films are rated R or PG-13, tend to begin smoking.

The lead author of the report, Dr. James Sargent, stated that the results of the project show that smoking itself, rather than profanity, sex, or violence, can impact kids.

"Movie smoking seems to be just as impactful if it's packaged in a PG-13 movie as opposed to an R movie," noted Sargent, a member of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, in a Reuters Health article. "I really think it's a ℠cool' factor. The more they see it, the more they start to see ways that (smoking) might make them seem more movie-star.”

In the project, the team of researchers measured the number of times a character was seen smoking in over 500 films that were released in recent years. Then, they asked 6,500 young adults between the ages of 10 to 14 to choose a random selection of 50 films they would watch. According to WebMD, the participants were surveyed every eight months over a span of two years. The results, which will be published in Pediatrics, demonstrated that there was an average of 275 scenes of character smoking in films that were rated PG and 93 scenes of characters smoking in R movies.

"This study suggests that it is the depiction of smoking in movies, not other contextual variables, that matters for the onset of youth smoking," wrote the researchers in the report.

In three follow up interviews with the participants, the kids who had watched movies with many smoking scenes had a higher chance of picking up smoking. In particular, young adults were 33 to 49 percent more likely to smoke in the next two years for every 500 smoking scenes. As well, the researchers saw that the influence of smoking based on PG-13 and R films were not different. While many of the participants frequented PG-13 movies, some researchers believe that the number of youth trying smoking would decrease by 18 percent if more movies earned an R rating.

"At this point, it is established that exposure to smoking in movies is a potent risk factor for actually taking up smoking, especially when the exposures are early," wrote Dr. Brian Primack, head of the Program for Research on Media and Health at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in an email to Reuters Health. "This study goes a step further and suggests that taking smoking out of all PG-13 movies could have a palpable effect on the impact of smoking in the U.S.”

On the other hand, other researchers propose that eliminating smoking scenes from movies may not be the best solution as investigators needed to consider factors like violence and profanity as influencing a young adult´s decision to smoke.

"I'm hoping that someone can disentangle smoking in the movies from other content that might appeal to youth to really firm up this relationship," remarked Matthew Farrely, a researcher at the scientific institute RTI International, in the Reuters Health article. "It's a good reminder that parents have to be very involved in kids' media consumption, and it comes in lots of ways these days.”

In concluding the research findings, Sargent recommends that parents take part in their child´s entertainment consumption and try to limit movies to no more than two a week. They also need to be aware of movie ratings and possibly set TV controls that blocks inappropriate material for young adults.

"Parents have to treat their kids' media diet the same way they treat their food diet," Sargent told Reuters Health.

These results are important as, according to the Surgeon General, smokers are hooked early on. The habit starts as an occasional activity during youth, but gradually becomes an everyday necessity. Smoking has various long-term damages, including asthma and chronic diseases.

It´s a terrible thing when a kid starts smoking, and the idea that what they see in the movies can cause that and can be responsible for that is something we take very seriously for public health because smoking causes a lot of bad diseases in our population,” explained Sargent in a TIME article.