Just 32 percent of children reported that their parents fully restricted them from seeing R-rated movies at the start of the study.
The researchers found that the percentage of children who were willing to try smoking went up with their parents' level of permissiveness regarding R-rated movies. Only about 8 percent of children who had never seen an R-rated movie had tried smoking during the study period, while nearly 30 percent of those who could see R-rated movies "all the time" had tried smoking.
The researchers felt that the parents' permissive attitudes, coupled with exposure to sensation-seeking behaviors in movies, probably influenced the increased risk of smoking in teens.
"This study really adds to the whole body of work that has shown that regular exposure to smoking in movies makes it more likely that a teen will take up smoking," said Dr. Deborah Moss, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
"Parents should not be afraid to say no. Restricting exposure to R-rated movies reduces smoking, and smoking is a gateway behavior. [Restricting R-rated movies] is one more thing that parents can do to raise a healthy teen," Moss added.
"Many parents relax their restrictions regarding R-rated movies during adolescence, but our results suggest that continued restriction is an effective means of reducing adolescents' risk for smoking onset," noted de Leeuw.
In addition, de Leeuw said, the study authors think that movie theaters and video stores should help parents by enforcing policies restricting anyone under 17 from viewing or renting R-rated movies without a parent present.
"This may prevent children from watching R-rated movies without their parents' knowledge," she added.
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