Viewing smoking scenes in movies is a significant risk factor for smoking among older teens and young adults, one new study concludes, while another reports that even as public smoking has largely been banned, poor kids are still facing significant exposure to secondhand smoke at home. Both studies are in this month's issue of Pediatrics.
In the study on smoking scenes in films, researchers followed up with young adults they'd first interviewed at age 14 or 15. Those who saw the most movies with smoking were twice as likely to become regular smokers (defined as smoking more than 100 cigarettes in a lifetime) as those with the least exposure.
The study also reports that heavy cinematic exposure might promote progression to "more advanced stages of smoking behavior" and that reducing kids' exposure to movie smoking could be a key tool in preventing the long-term health hazards of smoking.
The secondhand smoke study attributed much of the poor kids' exposure to the fact that they're much more likely to live with a smoking adult (49%) and with multiple adult smokers (21%) than non-poor kids. Citing secondhand smoke exposure risks such as respiratory infections, earaches, severe asthma, and possibly hyperactivity disorder and behavioral problems, the authors urge smokers who live with kids to quit.
What This Means to You
Kids who are around smokers are breathing secondhand smoke that contains 250-plus chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing), from arsenic and ammonia to hydrogen cyanide. Often, concentrations of these chemicals are higher in secondhand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers.
If you smoke and have (or are expecting) a child, quitting is the only way to significantly reduce exposure to toxic tobacco chemicals. You wouldn't light a cigarette, put it in your child's mouth, and encourage your little one to puff away. As ridiculous as this seems, parents who continue to smoke — or let anyone else smoke — around kids are in effect allowing their kids to smoke, too.
Harder to monitor and regulate is what your kids see on the big screen regarding smoking. After dramatically decreasing between 1950 and 1990, movie scenes featuring smoking spiked after that and now are just as common as back in 1950 — and making matters worse, many of these scenes are in PG-13 films as well as R-rated ones.
So it's important to find opportunities to discuss how smoking (and other risky behaviors) are depicted in the movies and on TV. Talk to your kids about what they watch and share your own beliefs and values. If you see something together that you don't approve of, use it as a chance to ask thought-provoking questions about the way smoking appears onscreen (glamorous, fun, sexy, adult, etc.) versus the reality (besides the grim health risks, you can talk about bad breath, smelly clothes, the high cost of cigarettes, and how smoking is banned in most public areas).
And as with most things, if you model positive, healthy behaviors, your kids are likely to follow your good example.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2009
Sources: "Early Exposure to Movie Smoking Predicts Established Smoking by Older Teens and Young Adults" and "Family Composition and Children's Exposure to Adult Smokers in Their Homes." Pediatrics, April 2009.