Is Hollywood Creating a Pack of Young Smokers?


James Dean lit up onscreen. So did Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and Mickey Rourke. We saw these icons smoking in their movies, and they looked cool. And it’s not just the men. Rita Hayworth was a glamorous smoker. And Uma Thurman looked pretty sexy taking a drag in “Pulp Fiction.”

These stars weren’t cool because they smoked, but it certainly added a little something to the characters they portrayed. According to a new study, kids are still captivated by a smoking movie star.

In the July issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, it showed that while playing team sports lowers the odds that kids will smoke, seeing smoking in the movies increases the chances of smoking and can undo the positive effect of athletics.

Study: Minimize kids’ exposure to smoking on film

Researcher Anna M. Adachi-Mejia, a research professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Hood Center for Children and Families at Dartmouth Medical School, said that parents need to be aware of the need to minimize a child’s exposure to smoking in movies.

The research team collected data on 2,048 children, first in 2000 and again in 2007. Smoking exposure in movies was assessed when the children were 9 to 14 years old, and participation in team sports was assessed when the same youths were 16 to 21.

At the follow-up, 17.2 percent of the individuals were smokers. Those who said they saw the highest number of movies with smoking when they were aged 9 to 14 were much more likely to be smokers compared to those saw the fewest movies with smoking at an early age.

Although people who did not take part in team sports were twice as likely to become smokers as those who played sports, “in both team sports participants and nonparticipants, the proportion of established smokers increased from lowest to highest levels of movie smoking exposure by the same amount, 19.3 percent,” the researchers wrote.

So just how strong is the influence, really?

To me, it makes sense that kids who are playing sports and doing fitness activities would be less likely to smoke. Those kids are into a healthy lifestyle. But watching people smoke in the movies really prompts kids to start puffing away? Are they really impacted by the actions of those on the silver screen?

Not everyone who’s cigarettes online buy in the movies is a role model that people want to emulate. Do images of an angry, jobless, poker-playing degenerate who smokes and beats his wife on the screen make kids want to grow up to be just like him? Do those types of images lead to less kids smoking? Do these images makes kids quit?

I think this type of study is just silly because there are so many variables that are obviously not represented.

What about parenting?

Doesn’t it really come down to parenting, and the influence they may have on their kids decisions? I feel that laying blame on the movies for kids smoking is ridiculous. Some anti-smoking groups are trying to get smoking out of the youth-rated films. They want movies with smokers to get an automatic R rating.

Get real. In real life there are smokers. Many movies try to portray life as real as possible. The best ones do.

Do you recall the episode of “Leave It to Beaver,” when Larry Mondello and the Beav found his dad’s pipe and smoked away until they were sick? I certainly can’t imagine an R-rating being slapped on something like that.


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