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Pictures of Puffing Stars Encourages Teen Smoking

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Watching a favorite movie star smoke appears to encourage teen girls to adopt the habit themselves, according to new findings released Tuesday.

Watching a favorite movie star smoke appears to encourage teen girls to adopt the habit themselves, according to new findings released Tuesday. Investigators found that girls who said their favorite celebrity was someone who had smoked in at least two recent movies were almost twice as likely to start smoking within the next three years as girls whose favorite stars did not smoke in films. “Really, smoking in movies is just an effective form of marketing,” study author Dr. John Pierce told Reuters Health. Pierce, based at the University of California in San Diego, added that it is also common for teens to copy their favorite stars’ clothing, hair and jewelry. Those habits are easy to alter as styles evolve, he said, but once teens become hooked on smoking, “that is something that’s very hard to change.” Pierce noted that the tobacco industry has argued that it does not pay for actors to smoke on screen, and actors do it simply because it makes them feel more comfortable. If that is the case, then one could argue that the stars themselves are responsible for encouraging teens to smoke, and should be held accountable for that, Pierce noted. “If it’s the stars, and they’re liable, then they’d better watch out,” he said. To investigate whether watching stars smoke on-screen influences teens to do the same, Pierce and his colleagues asked 3104 never-smokers between the ages of 12 and 15 to name their two favorite female stars and two favorite male movie stars. The researchers reviewed the stars’ movies during the past 3 years, and counted them as smokers if they puffed during at least two films. They then re-interviewed teens three years later, to see how many had started smoking. When Pierce and his team first contacted teens in 1996, the most popular stars among teen girls were Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock and Leonardo DiCaprio. Favorite actors for boys were Pamela Anderson, Sandra Bullock and Demi Moore. More than 40 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys had favorite stars who smoked. Favorite stars who did not smoke on-screen included Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise.Although girls appeared to be influenced by the smoking habits of favorite stars, boys were not, the authors report in the American Journal of Public Health. They note that research has shown that boys tend to prefer action movies, which tend to include less smoking by stars, while girls prefer more smoke-filled romances and dramas. Pierce explained that his team also measured each child’s susceptibility to smoking — defined as being unwilling to rule out the option of future smoking. This removed the possibility that only those who were susceptible to smoking would have a favorite star who smoked on-screen, he said. Dr. Stanton Glantz of the University of California in San Francisco, who was not an author of the paper, noted that research shows that the more teens see people smoke, the more likely they are to pick up the habit. The latest findings suggest that policymakers should strictly limit teens’ exposure to on-screen smoking, he said. Restricting smoking to R-rated movies would apply “the same rules that Hollywood applies to saying the F-word,” Glantz said. (Source: Reuters Health, American Journal of Public Health, June 2004)

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Posted On: 30 June, 2004
Modified On: 5 December, 2013


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