D’oh! The Simpsons could be encouraging another generation of young people to take up smoking.
One of the most popular television shows in history contains a “large number” of tobacco-related scenes, say researchers who watched 400 episodes of the cartoon for science.
“We recorded 795 instances of smoking or references to smoking,” says Dr Guy Eslick, a fellow of the International Union Against Cancer and honorary associate of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.
“The most notable characters who smoked were Marge Simpson’s sisters Patty and Selma, Krusty the Clown and Bart’s school teacher Mrs Krabappel.”
Dr Eslick assessed the first 18 seasons of the program and found the number of smoking references per season ranged from just over 10 to more than 60.
Smoking was presented in a “positive way” in just two percent of these cases, in a negative way in 35 percent of cases and neutrally in 63 percent.
Male characters were more likely to be involved in the show’s smoking-related references.
This was despite the program’s “most prolific smokers being Patty and Selma (who) started smoking as teenagers causing their raspy voices – as seen in Season 2”.
Plot lines which presented smoking in a negative light were more likely to feature child or adolescent characters than adult characters, the study also shows.
Dr Eslick said the program’s cartoon format ensured it would have a large child-age viewership despite the adult overtones of its content, while The Simpsons merchandising was directly targeted at children.
He said earlier research had shown children who watch more television were more likely to start smoking at a younger age.
There was also a link between onscreen use of cigarettes by movie stars and an increased likelihood of adolescent viewers taking up the habit.
“Even instances of smoking being reflected in a negative way, particularly among young characters, could have an impact on promoting children to smoke cigarettes,” Dr Eslick said.
The study concludes: “Viewing The Simpsons characters smoking may prompt children to consider smoking at an early age”.
The research is to be published in the Medical Journal of Australia, and today (Sunday) is World No Tobacco Day.
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