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R-Rated Movies Linked With Teen Smoking

Movies, TV Shows Greatly Influence Teens' Identity

WebMD Health News

July 6, 2004 -- When teens aren't allowed to watch R-rated movies, they are less likely to try cigarettes in the future, a new study shows.

Movies influence teens greatly, reflecting social customs and perpetuating those customs, writes lead researcher James D. Sargent, MD, a pediatrician with Dartmouth Medical School. His study appears in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.

In an earlier study, Sargent showed that when parents restrict viewing of R-rated movies, teens are less likely to smoke. "To the extent that they control media access, parents may influence how much smoking their children see in movies," he writes.

To further examine this link, Sargent and his colleagues surveyed 2,596 middle-school students. Ten percent of students tried smoking during the study period. The researchers found that smoking initiation rates increased as parental restriction of R-rated movies decreased.

Their findings:

  • 19% of the teens reported their parents never allowed them to view R-rated movies; of these teens, only 3% started smoking.
  • 29% of teens were allowed to watch R-rated movies once in a while; of these teens, 7% started smoking. These teens were almost twice as likely to smoke than teens completely restricted from watching R-rated movies.
  • 52% of the students were allowed to view R-rated movies some or all the time; 14% of those teens smoked. These teens were three times more likely to smoke than teens completely restricted from watching R-rated movies.

In essence, teen smoking rates increased in direct proportion to their parents' leniency regarding movies, writes Sargent. Also, the researchers find that the link is strongest in teens whose family members did not smoke.

In families where no one smoked and kids were never allowed to see R-rated movies, less than 1% tried smoking.

"These results indicate that, by exerting control over media choices and by not smoking themselves, parents can prevent or delay the adoption of smoking in their children," writes Sargent.

By banning R-rated movies, parents set a standard for social influences on their children, he writes. These parents also are more likely to keep kids from watching TV dramas that show smoking. This control protects kids from identifying with characters on the screen who smoke -- an identity-forming process that studies show is important in preventing teen smoking.

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