Smoking stars influence teen girls, study finds
Teen girls' propensity for swooning over movie stars may cause a lot more long-term damage than the marks left by the cheesy pinups on their bedroom walls.
New research suggests that being star-struck can be bad for their health, as they tend to take up smoking to emulate their Hollywood heartthrobs.
"If movie stars smoke, especially in romance films, they are effectively encouraging young girls to smoke," said John Pierce, director of the cancer prevention and control program at the University of California at San Diego Cancer Center.
He said even girls who have never even taken a puff on a cigarette are far more prone to do so once they have seen a romantic lead, male or female, do so.
The worst influences on teen girls, according to the article in today's edition of the American Journal of Public Health are Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, Winona Ryder, and Demi Moore.
Researchers found that girls who listed these stars -- all of whom smoke frequently on screen -- as their favourites were twice as likely to smoke as girls who were drawn to Hollywood stars who staunchly refuse to smoke, such as Julia Roberts, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tom Cruise.
Researchers did not see the same effect in teenage boys, but said that is likely due to the fact that, in the movies they prefer, the stars are too busy wreaking havoc with guns and bombs to find time to light up a cigarette.
"The lack of this effect among boys, we believe, is associated with movie genre preferences," Dr. Pierce said. "Girls tend to like romance movies, where smoking is common. Boys prefer action films, which contain lower levels of star smoking."
To conduct the study, researchers first asked more than 3,000 non-smoking teenagers to nominate their favourite Hollywood actors. Based on those responses, the researchers ranked the Top 10 stars, and viewed the films in which they were featured over the next three years to determine if they smoked.
At the end of the three-year period, a follow-up survey was done and it revealed the teen girls whose favourite actors smoked on screen were 80 per cent more likely to have taken up smoking themselves than girls whose preferred actors never lit up in the movies.
The films reviewed were released between 1994 and 1996, and the teens were surveyed in 1999.
An anti-smoking group that presents "Hackademy Awards" to films that promote smoking to youth identified more current stars whose butt-filled performances were "detrimental to the fight against teenage smoking."
In 2003, the Black Lung prizes went to on-screen smokers Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts, Samantha Morton and Keisha Castle-Hughes.
Dr. Pierce said the research shows that on-screen smoking undermines public health efforts. In fact, the effect of having a screen idol who smoked was the equivalent of having a friend who smoked.
Research published earlier this year in the American Journal of Public Health showed that on-screen smoking, after falling out of vogue in the 1980s, has returned to levels not seen since smoking's heyday in the 1950s.
Stanton Glantz of the Center for Tobacco Control Research in San Francisco said the assumption that smoking was more common in "classic" movies than today's hits was erroneous.
He said the high smoking rates in Hollywood films were not an accident, but a result of product placement by large tobacco companies, which were looking for a way to circumvent rules restricting advertising, particularly to young people.
He said, given their impact, discouraging actors from smoking in movies should be a public-health priority.
More than 25 per cent of youth in Grades 5 to 9 have tried smoking, according to a recent Health Canada youth smoking survey. That is down from 42 per cent of young people in that age group who had tried smoking a decade earlier. Despite the fact that fewer kids are trying smoking, more than one in five Canadians still smokes daily.