Smoking In Movies Does Not Impact Kids Short-Term [Study]

Viewing smoking in movies aimed at child and family audiences does not appear to immediately impact beliefs about smoking in preadolescent children, says a new study published in the August 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

According to previous research published in The Lancet, viewing smoking in movies promoted smoking initiation among adolescents. In other words, teenagers who see smoking in movies are more likely to begin smoking than teenagers who are not exposed to onscreen smoking.

In the present study, researchers from the Behavioural Science Institute at Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands studied the short-term effects of smoking in movies on the beliefs about smoking in preadolescents.

For the study, two experiments involving a total of 206 children between the ages of 8 and 11 were conducted in which the children viewed a 20-minute segment of a film with or without smoking characters. In the first experiment, 101 children viewed cartoon. In the second experiment, 105 children viewed a family-oriented movie. The children were randomly assigned to which film segment they watched.

After viewing a film, the children were assessed for their beliefs about smoking and their implicit
associations toward smoking. Questions used to assess the impact of smoking in movies included asking the children about their previous smoking habits (had the children ever tried smoking before), whether their parents smoked, and their attitudes towards smoking.

The majority of the children participating in the study on the impact of smoking in movies viewed smoking unfavorably. Viewing smoking movies had no effect on implicit associations toward smoking and only a small effect on one smoking-related cognition, antismoking norms. Exposure to smoking in movies was associated with a shift away from the most antismoking stance.

In general, however, viewing smoking in movies geared towards children and families had very little short-term impact on these preadolescent children’s beliefs about smoking.

However, as the researchers conclude, further research needs to be conducted on the cumulative effects of viewing smoking in movies on young children as well as the effects of viewing smoking in movies aimed at older audiences. As the researchers conclude:

“The current study suggests that prevention and policy initiatives should rather focus on the effect of smoking in family- oriented movies. Thus, tobacco control initiatives in the United States should pay attention to adjusting the rating system to address smoking in PG-13 movies. However, this should not be taken to mean that enriching G- and PG-rated movies with smoking is justified or desirable.”

A significant cumulative effect of viewing smoking in movies cannot yet be ruled out for preadolescent children who are exposed to smoking in cartoon and family-oriented movies.

Do you think that viewing smoking in movies harms children in the long-term?