PG-13 Movies May Start Teens Smoking

Smoking’s ‘cool factor’ in films could play a part in teens lighting up, a researcher says.

Movies may have a measurable influence on teens starting to smoke, a study finds. (Photo: David De Lossy/Getty Images)

Jul 9, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Teens who watch more PG-13 and R-rated movies that show characters smoking could be more prone to light up themselves, a study finds.

The study participants were 6,522 teens who were part of a longitudinal research project in which movie-watching, smoking habits, and other lifestyle factors were tracked over two years.

Researchers wanted to see if it was mostly the smoking depicted in movies or other adult behavior linked with smoking (think sex and violence) that had an affect on teens picking up the habit.

Turns out it was the smoking. On average, teens witnessed 275 smoking scenes in PG-13 films, and 93 in films rated R (which also had more adult content).

The more smoking scenes they saw, the more likely they were to try smoking over the course of the study. Still, smoking scenes in PG-13 and R-rated films had the same influence on the teens’ behavior. Films rated G and PG had hardly any smoking scenes, and those had little influence on teens trying cigarettes.

“Movie smoking seems to be just as impactful if it’s packaged in a PG-13 movie as opposed to an R movie,” lead author Dr. James Sargent told Reuters. Sargent, from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, added, “I really think it’s a ‘cool’ factor. The more they see it, the more they start to see ways that (smoking) might make them seem more movie-star.”

Sargent and his co-authors make the case that if movies depicting smoking had an automatic R rating, the rate of teen-onset smoking might drop by 18 percent. “With the elimination of image-based tobacco marking,” the authors wrote, “the epidemic of smoking is maintained, in part, by movie images of smoking.”

Even if smoking is banned from PG-13 movies, they added, parents should still limit their kids’ access to R-rated films that depict smoking.

The study was published online recently in the journal Pediatrics.

What influence do you think movies have in getting kids to smoke cigarettes? Let us know in the comments.

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