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Watching movies with smokers, powerful influence on teenagers

12 years ago | 3310 Views

From Uma Therman in Pulp Fiction to Audrey Hepburn and her iconic cigarette holder in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, images of actors and actresses smoking has a powerful influence on teenagers to the potential detriment of their health.

In a study carried out at the University of Bristol, 15-year-olds who watched the most films showing smoking were 73 per cent more likely to have tried smoking than those who watched the least. Not only does it make them more likely to try a cigarette, they were also 50% more likely to be a current smoker.

The findings were taken from data collected as part of the long term health research project, Children of the '90s, and looked at more than 5,000 15-year-olds. They were asked which of 50 randomly selected films from 366 box office hits they’d seen (between 2001 and 2005) and compared the answers with their smoking habits.

Of course there are other factors that influence whether a child starts smoking, such as the habits of their peers and alcohol use. But even when these were taken into account the teenagers watching more movies with images of smoking in were still 32% more likely to have tried a cigarette themselves.

The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies has called for glamorising smoking images to be regulated and rated — as violent and sexual images are — to protect children.

Dr Andrea Waylen from the School of Oral and Dental Sciences and lead researcher on the project argues that aspirational tobacco advertising imagery is banned in the UK, as is smoking in public places, so the smoking imagery in films should be consistent with these policies and rated accordingly.

“More than half the films shown in the UK that contain smoking are rated UK15 or below, so children and young teenagers are clearly exposed. Raising the certification to 18 in the UK is likely to lower smoking rates among youth,” said Dr Waylen.

The findings of this study are supported by research from the US which has shown that films depict smoking as an attractive, rather than a negative, behaviour and that adolescents with a high exposure to these films are two to three times more likely to start smoking than others.

However, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) argues that its guidelines on film rating is proportionate and “take due account of the available evidence of harm”.
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