A Link between Teen Smoking and Movies? ; Antismoking Groups, Citing New Research, Urge Hollywood to Leave Smoking Scenes on the Cutting Room Floor in Kids' Films

Article excerpt

Finding a teen-oriented movie that features smoking is as easy as visiting the local multiplex.

The coach in this year's remake of "Bad News Bears," played by Billy Bob Thornton, puffs on a cigar around kids. Nearly every major character lit up in last year's Will Ferrell comedy, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." Tobacco use has appeared in other recent PG- 13 films like "Ocean's Twelve" and "Hellboy."

Now pressure is mounting to douse those cigarettes and cigars in movies directly marketed to children. For the first time, antismoking activists can point to a national study - released earlier this month - that links on-screen smoking to tobacco use among teens. The findings suggest that for every 10 teens who try tobacco products, four were influenced by movies.

Armed with the new research, a coalition of children's- and health-advocacy groups and politicians is urging Hollywood to take action.

Variety, the entertainment industry newspaper, recently reported that attorneys general in 32 states signed a letter earlier this month calling for major studios to run antismoking public-service announcements with all DVD and video releases that show people smoking.

On Nov. 7, leaders of the National PTA, the American Medical Association, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and other organizations ran a full-page ad in Variety demanding an automatic R rating for films that include smoking. The ad proclaims that any delay will lead to "knowing recruitment of multitudes of new young smokers."

Citing the research findings, Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research at the University of California at San Francisco, says filmmakers are "delivering 400,000 kids a year to the tobacco industry, and that's wrong. ... They're abusing their audiences, and their audience's parents, and it's totally unnecessary."

But will moviemakers ever snuff out the smoke? After all, cigarette use has long been linked to Hollywood glamour, harking back to the days when the simple act of sharing a match could turn up the heat in a romantic scene.

Researchers argue that the glamorization of smoking hasn't stopped. Now, advocacy groups report that 77 percent of live-action PG-13 movies from the past six years feature smoking.

What the kids report

For the new study, researchers randomly surveyed more than 6,500 adolescents ages 10 to 14. They report their findings in Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The teens who watched the most movies that featured smoking were 2.6 times more likely to try smoking than other adolescents, even after researchers adjusted their statistics to account for other possible factors, such as tobacco use by relatives and friends. …