Washington, Jan 19: Watching their macho heroes lighting up a cigarette on screen influences many children to take up the habit, a study suggested, making the case for banning on-screen smoking stronger.
The research by Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) proves beyond any doubt that children's exposure to smoking in movies influences their decision to start smoking. It further suggests that smoking in movies seen in early childhood has an equally significant impact on that decision as movie smoking exposure closer to adolescence, Science Daily reported.
The research team surveyed more than 2,200 children aged 9-12 from 26 schools in New Hampshire and Vermont. Children were asked about movies they had seen and their smoking behaviour at an initial baseline survey and at two follow-up surveys. Children who had already tried smoking before the baseline survey were not included in the follow-up surveys.
Initially children were randomly given sampled lists containing 50 of the 550 top box office movies over the prior 5.5 years and asked which movies they had seen. Children were interviewed again in two follow-up surveys, one and two years later, about their smoking behaviour and the movies they had seen based on updated lists of 50 of the 200 top box office movies and video rentals during the previous year.
By the time third survey was initiated, 10 per cent of the children had started smoking. Results from the three surveys showed that each child had seen an average of 37 out of the 150 popular movies they were asked about, exposing them to an average of 150 smoking occurrences.
About 80 per cent of the children's exposure was due to smoking images portrayed in youth-rated movies.
''The results indicated that the earliest exposure to movie smoking was as important as exposure measured at the two follow-ups in predicting children's smoking initiation,'' said the lead author of the research Dr Linda Titus-Ernstoff.
''This finding suggests that the process which leads children to initiate smoking begins much earlier than adolescence. Viewing smoking in the movies may influence the decision to smoke in more than a third of children.'' she added.
The take-home message from this study is that exposure to movie smoking occurring during early childhood is as influential as exposure that occurs nearer to the time of smoking initiation.
''Even young children who see smoking in movies may be at risk for smoking later on,'' said Dr Linda.
''Parents also need to be aware, that most of children's exposure to movie smoking comes from youth-rated movies, and that they should try to reduce their children's viewing of movies that contain smoking.