A study in the US shows that exposure to on-screen smoking through popular films is a primary factor in determining whether young people will take up the habit.
The first study of its kind by researchers from the Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) and Norris Cotton Cancer Centre (NCCC) appeared in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The research suggests that exposure to movie smoking accounted for smoking initiation among over one-third of US adolescents. It concludes that limiting exposure of young adolescents to on screen smoking could have important public health implications, EurekAlert reported.
"We found that as the amount of exposure to smoking in movies increased, the rate of smoking also increased," said lead author James Sargent, professor of paediatrics at DMS and director of the Cancer Control Research Program at NCCC.
"Part of the reason that exposure to movie smoking has such a considerable impact on adolescent smoking is because it is a very strong social influence on kids aged 10-14," he said.
In the study, 6,522 US adolescents aged 10-14 were asked to identify films they had seen from a list of 50 randomly selected titles out of a database of films released in the US from 1998 to 2000.
All else being equal, the researchers found that of 100 adolescents that tried smoking, 38 did so because of their exposure to smoking in movies.
In the study, the researchers suggest several ways to reduce teens' exposure to movie smoking.
"As a paediatrician, I think that parents need to become more aware of what their young children watch and make an effort to shield young children from the messages in PG-13 and R rated movies," said Sargent.
The team hoped that, in light of their research, the movie industry would be persuaded to voluntarily reduce depictions of smoking and cigarette brands.