Smoking in Films Affects Teen Smoking Rates, Study Finds
U.S. teenagers who viewed films with high numbers of smoking incidents were almost three times more likely to smoke than teens who viewed films with a low number of smoking incidents, according to a study published today in the British medical journal the Lancet, the Washington Post reports. The study, conducted by Madeline Dalton of Dartmouth Medical School and colleagues and funded by the National Cancer Institute, surveyed about 2,600 children ages 10 to 14 in New Hampshire and Vermont (Kaufman, Washington Post, 6/10). Researchers asked study participants which films they had seen from a list of 50 films released between 1988 and 1999. Researchers determined the number of smoking incidents that study participants had viewed in the films and placed the participants into four groups based on their exposure levels. Study participants in lowest exposure level group had viewed zero to 531 smoking incidents in the films, compared to those in the highest level group, who had viewed 1,665 to 5,308 incidents. Each exposure level group included about 650 study participants. After two years, researchers found that 10% of study participants had begun to smoke and concluded that 52% of participants who began to smoke "started entirely because of seeing movie stars smoke on screen," the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Ross, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/9). The study did not establish a direct link between exposure to smoking in films and teen smoking habits but found that the films "encouraged teens to try smoking," the Post reports. In addition, the study found that children of non-smokers were four times more likely to begin to smoke after they viewed a high number of smoking incidents in films than those who viewed a low number of smoking incidents.
"The study provides the strongest evidence to date that smoking in movies encourages adolescents to start smoking," Dalton said. Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco and an anti-tobacco advocate, wrote in an accompanying editorial that the film industry should consider smoking "adult content" and require "R" ratings for films that include smoking (Washington Post, 6/10). The Motion Picture Association of America, which rates films, did not comment on the study. Paul Levinson, a media theorist at Fordham University not involved with the study, said, "It's the kind of thing we should be looking at ... but the fact that two things seem to be intertwined doesn't mean that the first causes the second. What we really need is some kind of experimental study where there's a controlled group" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/9). CBS' "Evening News" yesterday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from New York University film historian Peter Bardazzi and Dalton (Kaledin, "Evening News," CBS, 6/9). The full segment is available in RealPlayer online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.