Movies Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

Cathy Arnst

I don't know about you, but I'm not having the easiest time finding a child-friendly movie for my 7 year old this summer. She's seen Cars, Over the Hedge and Garfield, and sadly, so have I. There is no way I'm sitting through any of those again, and that's about it for G-rated movies. So now, in the middle of a heat wave, I have to decide which if any of the PG or PG-13 movies out there would be OK. I had assumed that the main thing I would have to worry about with PG-13 movies were some scary scenes and mild sexual content. Turns out there's a much bigger problem, as far as the long-term health of our children is concerned--Smoking. According to a new study from Dartmouth Medical School, youth-rated movies contain more images of cigarette smoking than R-rated films. That's a very real problem, given that earlier studies have found clear links between movie smoking and adolescent smoking.

Researchers led by Dr. James Sargent, a pediatrician and Director of Cancer Control at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, studied the 100 highest grossing movies each year from 1996-2004. They found that, although smoking on screen decreased over that time, it was still depicted in 75% of youth-rated films in 2004, including G-, PG- and PG-13-rated movies. "The images of smoking in these movies have a much greater potential to reach youth audiences, because they are seen by three times as many youths than R-rated movies," the authors said.

The only good news in the study is that, overall, the proportion of movies containing cigarette use or imagery declined from 96% in 1996 to 77% in 2004. But given that less than 25% of the population now smokes, why even 77%? I admit, I'm about as anti-smoking as you can be, mainly because I am bombarded every day with stories and studies about the horrific damage it does. I'm not sure what we can do about all this silver screen puffing, but for a start I now know to discuss with my daughter before we go the cineplex how incredibly uncool it is to smoke, even if her favorite movie stars are doing it. If anyone has a better suggestion, let me know.

The study is titled "Trends in Movie Tobacco Use: 1996-2004," . It was done for the American Legacy Foundation , an anti-smoking group that has a lot of useful educational material at their web site.

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