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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 00:14 GMT
Film stars 'encourage teenage smoking'
Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio has smoked in several films
Movie stars who regularly puff on a cigarette as part of their on-screen persona may have a lot to answer for.

Teenagers are more likely to take up smoking if their favourite movie stars are smokers, research suggests.

The findings have prompted calls for films that feature characters who smoke to be given a 15 certificate rather than a PG or U release.

The researchers surveyed 632 youngsters, aged 10 to 19, from schools in rural New England about their smoking habits and their attitudes to smoking.

Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone regularly smokes on screen
They were also asked to name their favourite movie star - and came up with a list of 43 names.

The researchers then analysed the screen appearances of these stars between 1994 and 1996 to assess whether they portrayed characters who smoked.

Favourable opinions

The research revealed that teenagers whose favourite stars smoked had more favourable opinions about smoking than those whose favourites did not indulge.

The more a star smoked, the more attractive the habit appeared to be for their fans.

This even applied to those who had never actually smoked.

Among this group, youngsters who chose a filmstar who smoked regularly on celluloid were 16 times more likely to express a favourable opinion about smoking than those who chose a star who had not smoked on screen.

Almost two thirds of the movie stars used tobacco at least once during the period of the study.

And four out of 10 portrayed smoking as an essential character trait in one or more films.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone, and John Travolta clocked up the highest number of "smoker" roles.

Report author Jennifer Tickle said: "Our findings do highlight the potentially enormous impact of media portrayals of smoking on adolescent attitudes towards tobacco use.

"In summary, these data suggest that mass media portrayals of smoking among favoured movie stars contribute to adolescent smoking which is, in turn, a casual link in what remains the leading cause of premature death and the number one preventable health problem in the developed world."

Classification plea


These data suggest that mass media portrayals of smoking among favoured movie stars contribute to adolescent smoking

Jennifer Tickle, Dartmouth College
The anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health has written to the British Board of Film Classification drawing attention to the findings and requesting that smoking be included in the decision about certification.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH, said: "We don't want to censor directors and actors by banning smoking in films by law, but we do call on them to recognise the impact they have on their young fans and think about harm they are doing.

"Hollywood megastars can find the best support in the world to stop smoking if they want, but for young fans the influence of their favourite actors could be the start of a lifetime struggle with nicotine addiction.

"These teenagers may be copying their favourite movie star's smoking or choosing to be fans of stars that make them feel comfortable about smoking.

"Either way, it suggests that smoking on screen nurtures and sustains smoking among teenage movie fans - and everybody should be worried about that."

FOREST, the smokers' rights organisation, dismissed Ash's call as "absurd".

Spokesman Jo Gaffikin said: "I can't imagine a better way to glamorise something than to make it inaccessible to young teenagers."

FOREST cited a 1998 study by the Department of Health which found that 96% of 11-15 year-olds did not agree that seeing TV and pop celebrities smoke would make them want to smoke.

The research is published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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See also:

20 Jan 01 | Health
Many teen smokers want to quit
20 Feb 01 | Health
UK children top drugs league
10 Oct 00 | Health
Tobacco companies 'woo teenagers'
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