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R-rated movies drag white teens into smoking, reveals study

8 March 2007: A study has revealed that white teenagers in the United States who watch a lot of R-rated movies or have unsupervised access to television shows seem more likely than similar black youths to start smoking cigarettes.

Researchers found that white adolescents with the most exposure to R-rated movies were about seven times more likely to have started smoking compared to those with less exposure.

Even after taking into account such things as having a friend who smoked, lack of parental guidance or doing poorly in school, those who watched more R-rated movies were still three times more likely to start smoking.

In theatres, anyone aged 16 or younger who watches an R-rated movie must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

White adolescents who are allowed unsupervised television viewing were also more likely to start smoking, the study says.

But, among black adolescents included in the study, there was no similar impact for restricted movies or unfettered TV viewing.

While the reason for the racial difference is not known, one factor could be that viewers prefer characters “who are similar to themselves in sex, age or race,” something that begins in childhood, says the report, published in the March 2007 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

“Because the majority of contemporary screen actors are white, it follows that experiencing identification and subsequent involvement in the narratives of popular movies and television programmes is less likely among black adolescents than among white,” the study concluded.

The study said today’s movies depict actors smoking as often as in the 1950s.

Previous studies had found that over three-fourths of youngsters of all races between the ages of 10 and 14 said they watched R-rated movies at home without parental permission.

Previous research has also linked the level of exposure to R-rated fare and TV in general and teens’ starting to smoke, but had not identified the racial difference.

The new report was based on interviews with 735 children aged 12 to 14, almost equally divided between black and white.

Christine Jackson of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the United States, and colleagues interviewed the 735, attending 14 public middle schools in the southeastern United States.

In an initial interview conducted in the fall of 2001, students were asked about the types of movies they watched, their TV viewing habits, and whether their parents restricted the kinds of television shows they watched. The students were next interviewed in 2004 about their smoking behaviour.

Jackson’s team found that white adolescents with high exposure to R-rated movies were nearly seven times more likely to start smoking compared to white teens who did not see as many R-rate movies.

Even after they adjusted for other risk factors – like having a friend who smokes, lack of parental involvement, and poor academic performance – the researchers found that white teens who watched more R-rated movies were still three times more likely to start smoking.

They were asked which of 93 popular films shown in theatres from 2001 to 2002 that they had watched, how often they watched TV, and whether their parents had rules about what they could watch.



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