A Lot of Smoke-Blowing in Today's Popular Films
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The vast majority of popular films from the last decade show people smoking cigarettes, and one quarter of all major characters in these movies smoke, researchers report.
This high prevalence of smoking among the "bigger than life" people seen on-screen may be influencing teens' decisions about smoking just as much as families or friends, study author Dr. James D. Sargent of Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New Hampshire, told Reuters Health.
Teens are especially susceptible to outside influence about smoking, Sargent explained, because they are still developing their own identities. During this phase in their lives, they tend to try on different persona for a period of time, and may adopt the behaviors of celebrity role models.
And what they see about smoking in popular films does not represent what living with the habit is like, Sargent added. The smoking situations are usually not realistic, and even if they are realistic, they are carried out by actors--not real people, he stressed.
As such, movie scenes that depict smoking become somewhat of an advertisement for the product, Sargent pointed out.
"It looks really like a tobacco ad," he said. "Because that person on the screen, doing it--it looks so good."
Sargent and his colleagues, led by Dr. Madeline A. Dalton of Dartmouth Medical School, measured the amount of time characters spent smoking and the context in which tobacco appeared in the top 25 movies, by box office sales, during each year from 1988 to 1997.
A total of 87% of the films included characters that used tobacco, according to the report in a recent issue of the journal Preventive Medicine. However, tobacco spent relatively little time on-screen, appearing five times or less in one half of each of the movies examined.
Almost one third of characters were shown smoking when confiding in others, and others often lit up when appearing agitated, happy or relaxed. Almost one fifth of characters smoked during celebratory situations, like a party.
Only rarely did the films depict any negative reactions to smoking, the authors report, and only 3% of major characters experienced any negative consequences due to their smoking.
To give parents the ability to control their children's exposure to smoking in films, Sargent believes that movies should begin to incorporate smoking into their rating system.
Smoking is a lifelong addiction, Sargent said, which can cause death. "If saying an expletive means 'rated R,' then smoking should be 'rated R,"' he added.
This recommendation would not curtail the film industry's right to free speech, Sargent explained, for filmmakers would not have to change the content of their films. However, the researcher added, he suspects movies that would now be rated G or PG would begin to drop smoking from their stories to keep the benign rating.
In the meantime, he recommends that parents monitor the movies their children watch, and try to limit their exposure to on-screen smoking.