New studies bolster claims on movie smoking

Children and young teens have been shown to be vulnerable to on-screen tobacco use.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted March 5, 2007

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Support exists among adults nationwide for giving R ratings to all movies featuring smoking, according to a new survey.

Advocates working to ban smoking in films intended for children and young teens welcomed the findings as useful ammunition in efforts to convince studio heads to eliminate tobacco use in films rated G, PG and PG-13.

Several studies have shown that watching favorite actors light up on screen plays a large role in persuading young people to try smoking.

Every day, nearly 4,000 teens start smoking, and 1,500 of them become daily smokers, said AMA board Chair Cecil B. Wilson, MD. He spoke at a Feb. 12 briefing with other advocacy groups, including the AMA Alliance, a volunteer organization of 26,000 physicians and spouses. The briefing was held to unveil the survey data.

For each of the past three years, the researchers, who hail from several universities, asked nearly 2,000 adults whether they believe that adolescents are more likely to smoke if they watch actors smoking in movies. The affirmative answers have risen from 75% in 2004 to nearly 81% last year.

The numbers also were up among adults who themselves smoke, with 62% agreeing that on-screen smoking exerts a powerful influence among young people, up from 54% in 2004.

In addition, the surveyors reported that nearly 67% of all adults contacted in phone interviews favored requiring theaters to show an anti-smoking ad before any film featuring cigarette use, and 61% believed that tobacco logos should not be allowed in any movie scene.

The surveys have been conducted by the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University in Starkville, with researchers from Mississippi State, the University of Rochester in New York, Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H., Harvard University in Massachusetts and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

More efforts under way

"This research is our latest effort to bring national attention to the harmful effects that smoking in movies has on our youth," said AMA Alliance President Nita Maddox. The group is a participant in the Smoke Free Movies movement -- an education and advocacy campaign begun by Stan Glantz, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Alliance members are engaged in a three-year public awareness effort to clear tobacco imagery from future movies rated G, PG, PG-13. Members are collecting 750,000 signatures on petitions as well as endorsements from parents and school groups to ban movie smoking. "With parents speaking out, Hollywood will have to listen," Maddox said.

Other advocates at the briefing lent support to the movement. "Given what we know about the health effects of smoking and the powerful addictive properties of nicotine, why do so many young people become smokers?" Dr. Wilson asked. The responsiveness of teens to outside influences provides a major part of the answer, he said.

"Tobacco ads target children and youth who are more susceptible than adults to product placement in movies," said Jonathan Klein, MD, MPH, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Julius B. Richmond Center of Excellence. "By the time they are 16, most of the smokers want to quit, but one in three will go on to die of a tobacco-related illness."

Although the movie industry charges that requiring any restrictions amounts to censorship, the issue is actually one of social responsibility, said Cheryl Healton, DrPH, president and CEO of American Legacy Foundation, a smoking cessation group created from the Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and many state attorneys general.

In recent survey findings, the foundation determined that studios have begun releasing a greater number of PG-13 rated movies instead of films with R ratings and that smoking was depicted in more than 70% of PG and PG-13 films. Dr. Healton said the result is that more movies with smoking are being seen by children and young teens.

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External links

AMA Alliance (link)

Smoke Free Movies (link)

Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University for the report, "Attitudes about Smoking in the Movies" (link)

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