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Rate Films with Smoking "R" and Cut Smoking Onset by Teens

New Norris Cotton Cancer Center research establishes for first time a cause-and-effect in adolescent smoking onset according to film rating.

The connection between smoking in films and its influence on adolescent behavior is well established by research.

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"We're just asking the movie industry to take smoking as seriously as they take profanity when applying the R rating," says James Sargent, MD, of Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

It's a concern of the U.S. Surgeon General as well as cancer researchers and clinicians worldwide.

Now, new research from Norris Cotton Cancer Center estimates, for the first time, the impact of an R rating for movie smoking. James Sargent, MD, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center, emphasizes that an R rating for any film showing smoking could substantially reduce smoking onset in U.S. adolescents—in fact, according to Sargent's data, the effect would be similar if all parents took an active, authoritative stand with their teenage children against smoking, Sargent says.

Resource icon
The Lowdown on Smoking in Movies

Read the Lowdown on Smoking in Movies to learn more about how smoking in movies influence young people to smoke.

Smoking and cancer

"Smoking is a killer. Its connection to cancer, heart attacks, and chronic lung disease is beyond doubt. Kids start to smoke before they're old enough to think about the risks; after starting they rapidly become addicted and then regret it.  Hollywood plays a role by making smoking look really good," says Sargent. "By eliminating smoking in movies marketed to youth, an R rating for smoking would dramatically reduce exposure and lower adolescent smoking by as much as one-fifth.

"We're just asking the movie industry to take smoking as seriously as they take profanity when applying the R rating," adds Sargent, who is also professor of pediatrics at The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. "The benefit to society in terms of reduced healthcare costs and higher quality of life is almost incalculable."

In this video, James Sargent, MD, talks about why it's so important for the film industry to take the influence of movies on teen smoking seriously.

Movie smoking prompts teens to smoke

The study, "Influence of Motion Picture Rating on Adolescent Response to Movie Smoking" (Pediatrics, Vol. 130, No. 2, August 2012), enrolled a total 6,522 U.S. adolescents in a longitudinal survey conducted at eight-month intervals.  Movie smoking exposure (MSE) was estimated from 532 recent hit movies, categorized into three of the ratings brackets used by the Motion Picture Association of America to rate films by content—G/PG, PG-13, and R. Median MSE from PG-13 movies was approximately three times higher than median MSE from R-rated films but their relation to smoking was essentially the same. The investigators were able to show that adolescent smoking would be reduced by 18 percent if smoking in PG-13 movies was largely eliminated, all else being equal. In comparison, making all parents "maximally authoritative" in their parenting with regard to smoking would reduce adolescent smoking by 16 percent, according to Sargent's findings.

"The equivalent effect of PG-13-rated and R-rated MSE suggests it is the movie smoking that prompts adolescents to smoke, not other characteristics of R-rated movies or adolescents drawn to them," the study concludes.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (grant CA077026) and the American Legacy Foundation. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

July 16, 2012