Smoking On TV Has Dwindled Leading To A Decrease In Tobacco Use
April 4, 2014

Tuning In And Turning Off: Absence Of Smoking On TV Has Contributed To A Decrease In Tobacco Use

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

While heavier taxes on cigarettes have been shown to reduce tobacco use in the US, the reduced glamorization of smoking on TV has also had an effect, according to a new report in the journal Tobacco Control.

In the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania said the shrinking visibility of cigarettes and smoking in prime time drama programs has led to a drop in cigarette use equivalent to two packs of cigarettes per adult a year.

While today’s young adults and teenagers might have a hard time naming a TV program that regularly shows cigarette smoking – shows from Quincy, M.E. to The Flintstones used to show main characters smoking on a regular basis.

However, after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on the negative health effects of smoking – depictions of the habit began to shrink. Instead of being a sign of sophistication, cigarette smoking began to be linked to undesirable personality traits, such as moral weakness.

In the new study, scientists analyzed over 1800 hours of popular American prime-time dramas broadcast between 1955 and 2010 to evaluate the influence of showing tobacco products on smokers. The trends were analyzed with smoking incidence of cigarettes among US adults during this time.

The analysis revealed that the depiction of tobacco products, including smoking, buying, and handling, has decreased since 1961, in accordance with the drop in cigarette usage.

TV tobacco use dropped from nearly 5 instances per hour of programming in 1961 to 0.3 instances per hour in 2010, the study team said. After considering shifts in cigarette prices and other factors, the authors also determined that one less tobacco event per episode hour across two years of programming noticeably forecasted an annual fall of virtually two packs of cigarettes, or more than 38 cigarettes, for every American adult.

The cost of tobacco is recognized as having an impact on tobacco intake. Therefore, the study team analyzed the effects of price and TV depiction of tobacco on usage and found that the decreasing visibility of tobacco on TV had half as much an effect in reducing usage as price.

The study also suggested that the continued TV depiction of tobacco use during the last half of the 20th century impeded an even faster drop in lung cancer and other preventable deaths in the United States.

The findings are in keeping with other studies that have showed exposure to tobacco cues encourages cravings for cigarettes in adult smokers, the study team said. The researchers added that the depiction of smoking in today's media landscape, including the internet, should be studied further in the United States and other countries that consume large amounts of media.

The new study comes as the Food and Drug Administration is "pushing very hard" to releasing new regulations regarding e-cigarettes, according to Reuters.

The announcement comes as advocacy groups are calling for the increased regulations of e-cigarettes, which they say pose risks to children who may be attracted to the sweet flavors available for the devices.