Smoking in movies influences teenagers to start smoking

June 09, 2003

HANOVER, NH - Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School, Dartmouth College and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center report that viewing smoking in movies strongly predicts whether or not adolescents will try smoking.

Their study, which appears online on June 9 in The Lancet and was supported by the National Cancer Institute, considers the effect of watching smoking in movies on adolescents who had never tried smoking themselves.

"Here's more evidence that movies have a strong impact on adolescents," says Madeline Dalton, the lead author on this paper and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. "Previous studies suggested that smoking in movies influences adolescent smoking behavior, but this is the first study to show that viewing smoking in movies predicts who will start smoking in the future."

In 1999, the researchers surveyed children aged 10 to 14 about a variety of behaviors, including smoking and movie watching. From this survey, the researchers identified 3,500 adolescents who had never tried smoking. They re-contacted 2,600 of these adolescents one to two years later to determine if they had started smoking. In the follow-up interview, ten percent of the students reported that they had tried smoking.

The statistical analyses of the follow-up survey data showed that the strongest predictor of first-time cigarette smoking was the amount of smoking seen in movies. Even after controlling for other factors that might influence smoking behavior, such as friend, sibling and parent smoking, children who had seen the most smoking in movies were more than two and a half times more likely to start smoking compared to children who had seen the least amount of smoking.

"Our data indicate that 52 percent of smoking initiation among adolescents in this study can be attributed to movie smoking exposure," says Michael Beach, co-author on the paper and associate professor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. "This suggests that reducing adolescents' exposure to smoking in movies could significantly reduce the number of adolescents who initiate this behavior."

Related Findings:
Dalton is one of the lead scientists in a prolific research group at Dartmouth dedicated to understanding adolescent behavior and how it's linked to exposure to movies. They have published numerous studies. In January 2001, this research team reported that actor endorsement of cigarette brands in movies was increasing. In March 2001, the team released findings that adolescents whose favorite movie stars smoke on-screen are more likely to be smokers themselves. In December 2001, they published a paper stating that children are less likely to smoke if their parents disapprove. In another article, published in December 2001, the researchers revealed that as adolescents see more smoking in movies, it's more likely to entice them to try smoking. A paper in early 2002 stated that children who are not restricted from watching R-rated movies are three times more likely to smoke or drink alcohol compared to those who are never allowed to watch them. Another study, published in December 2002, found that a surprising number of young teenagers are watching extremely violent movies.
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Dartmouth College

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