New Study Shows Smoking in Movies Prompts Smokers to Immediately Smoke

WASHINGTON, - A new and groundbreaking study to be published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine next week shows that young adult smokers will light up immediately after watching smoking in movies. The study is the first of its kind to directly link smoking scenes in movies to actual and immediate smoking behavior.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco randomly assigned 100 cigarette smokers aged 18-25 to watch a movie montage composed with or without smoking scenes. The researchers then observed their behavior during a 10-minute break to see whether or not participants smoked. They found that smokers who watched the smoking scenes were more likely to smoke during the break. They were also three times more likely to smoke within 30 minutes of leaving the screening.

UCSF researchers Dikla Shmueli, Judith Prochaska and Stanton Glantz also found that people who had previously watched movies with higher levels of smoking were more likely to smoke during the break. These results held even after controlling for level of nicotine addiction, how close they were to quitting, gender, ethnicity, impulsivity and marital status.

“The bottom line is that young adults who are trying to quit smoking should not watch movies with smoking scenes,” said Glantz, Legacy Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California San Francisco.

In 2009, more than half of PG-13 films and more than two-thirds of R-rated films featured tobacco imagery, a disturbing trend given that the leading authority on cancer research in the U.S., the National Cancer Institute, concluded that smoking in the movies causes adolescent smoking initiation, a conclusion also endorsed by the World Health Organization and by prominent U.S. public health and medical organizations. Glantz directs the national Smoke Free Movies Campaign, which aims to eliminate tobacco images in movies rated for youth. He says doing so would not only substantially reduce the number of adolescents who start to smoke, it would also reduce the risk of relapse for young adults attempting to quit.

According to Legacy, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing tobacco use in the United States and a supporter of the Smoke Free Movies campaign, most smokers in America (70 percent) want to quit smoking, but in 2000, only 5 percent succeeded in quitting long term.

“This new data basically shows us that there is a Pavlovian response for smokers when they see others smoking on screen. We know that there are powerful triggers that prompt smoking for every smoker. Now we know smoking in movies is at the top of that list,” said Cheryl G. Healton, Dr.PH, President and CEO of Legacy.

“Young adults are at the cusp of becoming established lifelong smokers and movie smoking can perpetuate it. The movie industry has taken some measures to limit smoking in movies or inoculate its effect by placing antismoking PSAs before movies, but clearly more needs to be done,” she added.

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