Modifying exposure to smoking depicted in movies: a novel approach to preventing adolescent smoking

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2003 Jul;157(7):643-8. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.157.7.643.


Background: Most behavioral approaches to adolescent smoking address the behavior directly. We explore an indirect approach: modifying exposure to portrayals of smoking in movies.

Objectives: To describe adolescents' exposure to smoking in movies and to examine factors that could modify such exposure.

Design: Occurrences of smoking were counted in each of 601 popular movies. Four thousand nine hundred ten northern New England junior high school students were asked to report which movies they had seen from a randomly generated subsample of 50 films, and responses were used to estimate exposure to the entire sample. Analysis The outcome variable was exposure to movie smoking, defined as the number of smoking occurrences seen. Risk factors for exposure included access to movies (movie channels, videotape use, and movie theater); parenting (R [restricted]-rated movie restrictions, television restrictions, parenting style); and characteristics of the child (age, sex, school performance, sensation-seeking propensity, rebelliousness, and self-esteem). We used multiple regression to assess the association between risk factors and exposure to movie smoking.

Results: Subjects had seen an average of 30% of the movie sample (interquartile range, 20%-44%), from which they were exposed to 1160 (interquartile range, 640-1970) occurrences of smoking. In a multivariate model, exposure to movie smoking increased (all P values <.001) by about 10% for each additional movie channel and for every 2 videos watched per week. Exposure increased by 30% for those going to the movie theater more than once per month compared with those who did not go at all. Parent restriction on viewing R-rated movies resulted in a 50% reduction in exposure to movie smoking. There was no association between parenting style and exposure to movie smoking. Much of the protective effect of parent R-rated movie restriction on adolescent smoking was mediated through lower exposure to movie smoking.

Conclusions: Adolescents see thousands of smoking depictions in movies, and this influences their attitudes and behavior. Exposure to movie smoking is reduced when parents limit movie access. Teaching parents to monitor and enforce movie access guidelines could reduce adolescent smoking in an indirect, yet powerful, manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Male
  • Motion Pictures / classification
  • Motion Pictures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Parenting*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Surveys and Questionnaires