A study in the March 14 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, shows that young adults watching movies in which people smoke have a greater risk of smoking than their older peers.
Movies that feature smokers are known to have an impact on the smoking habits of youths, yet few studies have assessed the connection between exposure to movies featuring smokers and forming an established smoking behavior.
As it remains unknown whether the affect of movies that feature smokers is greater amongst youths in their early or late adolescence, Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and his team surveyed 2,074 public school students in Vermont and New Hampshire, who were not established smokers at baseline.
The students were asked to complete written surveys with information on their background, what movies they watched, as well as their tobacco use in 1999, between the ages from 9 to 14 years, i.e. early exposure and follow-up telephone interviews in 2006-2007, when the students were aged 16 to 22 years, i.e. late exposure. The team classified the reported viewed movies by ratings and smoking episodes.
The findings revealed that established smoking behavior increased with the number of smoking episodes watched, whilst students between the age of 9 to 14 years were noted to have a 73% increased risk of becoming established smokers, compared with those who watched fewer smoking episodes. The researchers did not observe a statistically important higher risk amongst students in the 16 to 22 year-group compared with their fellow students who watched less smoking episodes.
The team states:
“These results indicate that early exposure to smoking depicted in movies is associated with established smoking in adolescents, whereas late exposure is not.”
The team acknowledges that their study has limitations. For instance, that the research is focused on a very specific demographic of white students from northern public schools in New England and that they failed to consider data from students younger than the early cohort who were exposed to movie smoking.
They do, however, refer to a previous study that demonstrated that movie-related childhood exposures are just as influential as those occurring closer to the age of initiation.
The team nevertheless conclude that their results should inform smoking prevention efforts, saying:
“These findings suggest that prevention efforts should focus on the reduction of exposure to smoking depicted in movies when children are at a young age.”