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Watching movies featuring characters who smoke negatively influences Mexican-American teens

PHILADELPHIA Mexican-American adolescents exposed to cigarette smoking scenes in movies are more likely to pick up the habit themselves, and this may be part of the acculturation process associated with smoking initiation, according to new study findings.

"Our study supports an R-rating for smoking in the United States and highlights the global implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which includes guidelines for countries to restrict youth access to movies with smoking by using their movie ratings systems," said researcher Anna Wilkinson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Details of these results are published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, as part of a special focus on tobacco in the December issue.

Evidence to date has indicated that adolescents are influenced to start smoking cigarettes based on their level of exposure to cigarette smoking by the characters that actors and actresses portray in movies.

Wilkinson, along with James Sargent, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School and co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center, and colleagues evaluated whether images seen in the movies influence Mexican-American adolescents to experiment with smoking.

They followed 1,328 adolescents aged 11 to 13 years over four years and assessed which of the 50 movies randomly selected from a pool of popular movies featured between 1999 and 2004 were viewed by the participants. The researchers also evaluated whether acculturation plays a role in the relationship between exposure to smoking by characters in the movies and experimenting with smoking in these Mexican-American households.

While 10 percent of the adolescents experimented with smoking at the start of the study, 17 percent tried it at the end of the study. As exposure to smoking scenes in the movies increased, so did their chances of ever experimenting.

"Exposure to movie smoking predicted smoking onset even after controlling for several established risk-factors, like exposure to friends who smoke," said Wilkinson.

Results showed that the effect size of movie watching was smaller than published studies conducted in white adolescents; although this effect was stronger for Mexican-born than U.S.-born adolescents.

Based on their findings, Sargent believes that "parents of adolescents should limit the number of movies their children watch per week and avoid showing movies that depict cigarette smoking."

The message for the movie industry, according to Sargent: "Movies featuring smoking scenes should be rated R."

This NCI-supported study is part of a larger, population-based study to investigate smoking rates and risk among Mexican-American teens (recruited from a cohort jointly funded by the 1999 Master Tobacco Settlement and University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center). A companion paper, conducted by Wilkinson and colleagues, is also published in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.


Contact: Tara Yates
American Association for Cancer Research

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