"Movie smoking seems to be just as impactful if it's packaged in a PG-13 movie as opposed to an R [rated] movie," said the lead researcher, Dr James Sargent, from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Lebanon, New Hampshire (United States).
In a Reuters Health report, Sargent said that he believed that it was the “cool factor” that attracted young people to smoking, sometimes even subconsciously. “The more they see it, the more they start to see ways that (smoking) might make them seem more [like a] movie star,” he said.
For the study, Sargent and his colleagues counted how many times a character was seen smoking in each of over 500 popular movies from recent years. The average "dose" of movie smoking was 275 scenes from films rated PG-13 and 93 scenes from R-rated movies.
Then they asked 6500 US kids between the ages of 10 to 14 which of a random selection of 50 of those movies they'd watched. In three subsequent interviews with the same children, those who had watched smoking-heavy movies were more likely to pick up the habit themselves. For each extra 500 smoking shots, youths were 33% to 49% more likely to try cigarettes over the next two years.
The effect of on-screen smoking was not significantly different for PG-13 and R-rated films. And because kids tend to see more PG-13 films, Sargent's team calculated that if smoking automatically earned an R rating, the number of youngsters who try cigarettes would drop by 18%.
"At this point, it is established that exposure to smoking in movies is a potent risk factor for actually taking up smoking, especially when the exposures are early," said Dr Brian Primack, head of the Programme for Research on Media and Health at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine also in the United States, in the Reuters Health report.
"This study goes a step further and suggests that taking smoking out of all PG-13 movies could have a palpable effect on the impact of smoking in the US," he added.
Sargent recommends that youths watch no more than two movies a week and called for "no R-rated movies until kids are well into adolescence."
Source: Reuters Health