Seeing smoking in films encourages teenagers to try smoking

December 13, 2001

Effect of seeing tobacco use in films on trying smoking among adolescents: cross sectional study BMJ Volume 323, pp 1394-7

Editorial: Smoking in teenagers and watching films showing smoking BMJ Volume 323, pp 1378-9

The more smoking teenagers see in films the more likely they are to smoke, finds a study in this week's BMJ, providing powerful new evidence that depictions of smoking in films influence adolescents to smoke.

James Sargent and colleagues surveyed 4,919 schoolchildren in the United States (aged 9-15 years) about the amount of smoking they had seen in films and whether they had ever tried smoking. They found that the likelihood of ever trying cigarettes increased with higher exposure to smoking in films, even when other factors linked with adolescent smoking were taken into account.

For instance, among students who had watched films with 50 or fewer occurences of smoking, only 4.9% had ever tried smoking. Of those who had watched films with more than 150 occurences of smoking, 31.5% had tried smoking.

The results indicate that exposure to tobacco in films is pervasive, say the authors. More importantly, such exposure is associated with trying smoking, which supports the hypothesis that films have a role in the initiation of smoking, they conclude.

It is time for the entertainment industry to accept responsibility for its actions and stop serving the interests of tobacco companies, writes Professor Stanton Glantz in an accompanying editorial. His campaign called "Smoke Free Movies" challenges Hollywood to take effective steps to make their films smoke free, such as running strong anti-tobacco ads before films containing smoking scenes and increasing the age rating for any film with smoking.

"None of these measures will choke creativity or restrict content. Each will make American films much less complicit in the global tobacco epidemic," he concludes.


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