When adolescents pick up a cigarette, their reasons for doing so are quite different from those of adults. Whereas adults may initiate smoking as a mechanism for stress relief, typically when adolescents start smoking there is no rational or premediated reason for doing so (see resource 1). Most agree that children begin smoking due to social influences, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and clearly with the wrong people. Children often model the behavior of their friends or even their parents and other family members (see resource 2). Recent research has begun to examine just how widespread these influences are: does a child have to know the person smoking, see the person in "real life", or relate to the person on some level?
Researchers at Dartmouth College have begun to answer exactly these questions. In a series of studies (see resources 3,4) they have found that smoking in movies is a strong predictor of smoking onset in adolescence: when your favorite movie star is depicted as a smoker in movies, adolescents are most likely to start smoking. In fact, exposure to smoking in movies is the best predictor of whether an adolescent would start smoking, even after accounting for a variety of other factors such as sociodemographics, friend/sibling/parent smoking, school performance, personality characteristics, whether the movie character was portrayed in a positive, negative or neutral way, and parenting style. Limiting exposure to movies with smoking may benefit the future of your children!
1Sargent, J.D., Beach, M.L., Adachi-Mejia, A.M., et al. (2005). Exposure to movie smoking: its relation to smoking initiation among US adolescents. Pediatrics, 116, 1183 –1191.
2Titus-Ernstoff, L., Dalton, M. A., Adachi-Mejia, A. M., Longacre, M. R., & Beach, M. L. (2008). Longitudinal study of viewing smoking in movies and initiation of smoking by children. Pediatrics, 121, 15 –21.
3Tanski, S. E., Stoolmiller, M., Dal Cin, S., Worth, K., Gibson, J., & Sargent, J. D. (2009). Movie character smoking and adolescent smoking: Who matters more, good guys or bad guys. Pediatrics, 124, 135-143.
4Distefan, J.M., Gilpin, E.A., Sargent, J.D., & Pierce, J.P. (1999). Do movie stars encourage adolescents to start smoking? Evidence from California. Preventive Medicine, 28, 1 –11.