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Young Adults Mimic Smoking in Movies

Young Adults Who See Smoking on Screen More Likely to Smoke
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 3, 2007 - Watching movie stars smoke on screen makes young adults more likely to smoke cigarettes themselves, according to a new study.

Researchers found young adults aged 18-25 who watched the most movies with smoking stars were 77% more likely to have smoked recently and 86% more likely to become regular smokers than those who rarely watched movies with smoking.

In fact, the study showed that the more movies with smoking that young adults watched, the more likely they were to become established smokers.

“The main effect is to recruit new smokers from among young adults,” says researcher Stanton Glantz, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of San Francisco, in a news release. “Ages 18 to 25 are critical years, when one-third of smokers start and others who began smoking as adolescents either stop smoking or become regular smokers.”

Previous studies have already shown that on-screen smoking can encourage adolescents to start smoking. But researchers say this is the first to show that exposure to smoking in movies also influences young adults and their smoking habits.

(Are you a smoker or ex-smoker? Why did you start smoking? Tell your story on WebMD's Smoking Cessation: Support Group message board.)

Movie Smoking Affects Young Adults

In the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,500 young adults aged 18-25 in a web-based survey. The participants were asked about their smoking habits and which of a sample of 60 popular movies released between 2000 and 2004 they had seen. The results appear in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

When researchers compared the number of exposures to smoking in movies with the young adults’ smoking habits, they found the odds of smoking rose as exposures to on-screen visuals rose.

After adjusting for other risk factors, they found the odds of smoking rose by 21% for each 25% increase in exposure to smoking in movies.

The study also showed that two factors influenced the relationship between smoking in movies and young adults smoking in their own lives: positive expectations about smoking and having friends and relatives who smoke.

“Movies encourage them to experiment, and once they start experimenting with cigarettes other factors take hold,” says Glantz. "Movies create the expectation that smoking will turn out OK.”

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