Julia Roberts chain-smoked throughout My Best Friend's Wedding in 1997. Leonardo DiCaprio polluted the skies over Thailand in 2000 with cigarette after cigarette in The Beach. Even the adorable little green aliens from Men in Black II puffed on cigarettes in 2002. Experts fear that Hollywood blockbuster movies are sending the wrong message to teens by showing some of the most famous actors and actresses lighting up cigarettes. The writers, directors, and studios that produce these movies claim they are merely imitating real-life trends and attitudes toward smoking.
What's the truth? Let's take a look at the some of the straight facts on smoking and the movies. According to studies conducted by Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco:
• The use of cigarettes on screen did not decline over the decades, even though the number of American smokers dwindled from 42.4% in 1964 to 25.5% in 1994.
• The number of young adults smoking on camera more than doubled from 21% in the 1960s to 45% in the 1980s, compared to only 26% in real life.
• Although only 19% of Americans of high socioeconomic status smoke, 57% of those playing roles of characters with high socioeconomic status smoke.
• The heroes in movies, as contrasted with those who played villains or bit parts, smoked three times as often as their counterparts in real life (by age, race, and gender).
As these facts suggest, movies may not, in fact, reflect real-life trends and attitudes towards smoking in the United
States. But as researchers have discovered, on-screen smoking does have a significant impact on teens and their willingness to smoke. Professor James Sargent and his colleagues at Dartmouth Medical School surveyed 4,919 American children aged 9-15 years about the amount of smoking they had seen at the movies and whether they had ever tried smoking. In a study published in the December 15, 2001 issue of the British Medical Journal, the Dartmouth researchers reported that the more teens are exposed to smoking in the movies, the more likely they are to experiment with smoking themselves:
• 4.9% of teens who viewed 0-50 occurrences of smoking in movies tried smoking themselves.
• 13.7% of teens who saw 51-100 occurrences of smoking in movies tried smoking themselves.
• 22.1% of teens who saw 101-150 occurrences of smoking in movies tried smoking themselves.
• 31.3% of teens who saw more than 150 occurrences of smoking in movies tried smoking themselves.
The researchers involved in the Dartmouth study concluded that there is a direct association between seeing tobacco use in movies and trying cigarettes, a finding that supports the hypothesis that smoking in movies influences teen trends and attitudes toward smoking.
Smoke Free Movies, http://smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu Action on Smoking and Health, http://ash.org Sargent, James D. et al. "Effect of seeing tobacco use in films on trying smoking among adolescents: cross sectional study." BMJ 323 (2001):1394.
in 1996. And only 13.8% described themselves as "frequent" smokers. The declining rate is thought to be due to new awareness of the dangers of smoking, as well as to the increasing cost of cigarettes.
So who actually is smoking? The recent research shows that boys are slightly more likely to smoke than girls and that white students are more likely to describe themselves as smokers than African-American or Hispanic students.
Perhaps you have tried smoking and are finding it difficult to quit. Maybe you have a friend or family member whose
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