Kids Pick Up Smoking from Movies
> 2/4/2008 2:46:32 PM

It was early in 2007 that the Motion Picture Association of America, the group responsible for handing out movie ratings, finally bowed to public pressure and agreed to begin considering the presence of smoking when determining a film's rating. According to research published by a research team from Dartmouth College, this decision couldn't have come soon enough. As their report in this month's edition of Pediatrics shows, exposure to smoking in movies affects adolescents' and young adults' decision to initiate smoking behaviors.

To explore the relationship, the researchers surveyed over 2,000 youths at three time periods. At the baseline, the children were asked about a random sampling of 550 of the most popular films over the previous half-decade. During subsequent surveys, which occurred first after one year, and then again after two years, the respondents were asked about film viewership over the previous year and whether they had initiated any smoking behavior. The team found that by the third survey, 10% of the respondents had begun smoking. They also found that children had been exposed to an average of roughly 150 scenes of smoking in film during each year of the study, and that 80% of those exposures had come in movies rated G, PG, and PG-13. As they indicated in their report, after performing several statistical analyses, they have concluded that greater exposure to movie smoking was correlated to an increased risk for taking up the habit.

As the lead researcher explained in a University press release: "The results indicated that the earliest exposure to movie smoking was as important as exposure measured at the two follow-ups in predicting children's smoking initiation," said Titus-Ernstoff. "This finding suggests that the process which leads children to initiate smoking begins much earlier than adolescence. Viewing smoking in the movies may influence the decision to smoke in more than a third of children."

This experiment was the first to examine the issue of film smoking over a period of several years. In reality though, the results shouldn't surprise anyone. Cigarette manufacturers have a long history of securing product placement for their wares, in attempts to heighten their appeal. Companies are very aware that while they cannot advertise to children directly, making sure that children are exposed to smoking will go a long way toward putting that first cigarette in their mouth and fomenting a life-long addiction. This study simply serves to illustrate the judiciousness of the MPAA last year in deciding to include smoking as one of its behaviors to be taken into account when rating a film.

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