Want to reduce the risk that your child will smoke? Next time you take her to the movies or rent a DVD, try substituting G-rated films for R-rated ones. Instead of Bridget Jones’s Diary, try The Princess Diaries.
So say Dartmouth Medical School researchers who found that kids who watched movies with mature themes were more likely to try cigarettes. Starting in 1999, the scientists surveyed the movie-viewing habits of 2,596 nonsmoking students aged 10 to 14 at 15 schools in New Hampshire and Vermont. Specifically, they asked the students whether their parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies. One to two years later, the researchers asked the same students if they had since tried tobacco.
The findings, published in the July issue of Pediatrics, show that, overall, 10 percent of the students tried smoking during the follow-up period. Nearly five times as many children who had access to R-rated movies took a puff (14.3 percent) as kids who were forbidden to see adult-themed movies (2.9 percent). In the middle (7 percent) were those permitted to watch R films “once in a while.”
“All things being equal, whether their friends or parents smoke, the amount of R-rated movie watching is a strong predictor of smoking among kids,” says James D. Sargent, the Dartmouth Medical School professor of pediatrics who led the study. Surveys have found that the average R-rated film contains eight scenes that involve actors smoking compared with four in the typical PG or PG-13 flick, Sargent says. “Kids imitate their heroes, and the movies supply heroes to kids.”
The problem is not limited to tobacco. Sargent says other preliminary research indicates that kids exposed to movies depicting drinking are three times more likely to try alcohol than those who are not allowed to see such films.