Earlier studies had shown that young adolescents who saw smoking scenes in movies were more likely to smoke and to combat smoking among youth, public health groups had called for Restricted (R) ratings for movies that depict smoking.
However, Joseph R. DiFranza, MD, and professor of family medicine & community health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who carried out the study with a team of researchers, said that a 'R' rating might not be enough to stop kids from smoking.
"The good example parents set by not smoking and forbidding smoking in the home can be trumped by the glamorization of smoking in the movies. The U.S. movie industry contributes to the spread of teen smoking around the globe, rivaling the influence of the tobacco industry," Dr. Joseph DiFranza said.
"Significantly, we found that 94 percent of the 14 to 15 year olds in our sample watched R-rated movies, and 38.5 percent did so on a weekly basis. Therefore, limiting smoking to R-rated movies will likely not eliminate the influence of smoking in the movies," he added.
Since almost all U.S. movies are screened in New Zealand, the team examined 88,505 high school students of largely European, Maori, Asian or Pacific Islander ethnicity.
The students were questioned on how often they watched R-rated movies, their intention to smoke, past experiences with smoking and their current smoking habits.
Through the survey it was found that the more often the youths watched R-rated films, the more likely were they to smoke, or to have intentions to smoke in the future if they hadn't already started.
Those who watched the most R-rated films were twice as likely to have tried smoking as youths who never watched them.
Among the nonsmokers, the ones who watched the most R-rated movies were nearly three times as likely to be susceptible to starting to smoke, even when the researchers controlled for age, gender, ethnicity, peer smoking, parental smoking, socioeconomic status, pocket money and household smoking rules.
The study is published in Preventive Medicine.