Smoking :: White teens with high exposure to R-rated movies have increased risk of smoking initiation

White adolescents with high exposure to R-rated movies and fewer restrictions on their television viewing habits are more likely to start smoking than those with low media exposure, but this association is not seen in black adolescents, according to an article in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Past research has suggested that all U.S. adolescents, regardless of race, have a higher risk of initiating smoking as their exposure to smoking in the media increases. In 2002, smoking was portrayed in 90 percent of PG- and PG-13?rated movies, and in 100 percent of R-rated movies, according to background information provided by the authors. “About 20 percent of episodes of popular, non-educational prime-time television programs depict tobacco use, and pro-smoking portrayals outnumber anti-smoking portrayals by a ratio of 10 to one,” the authors write.

Christine Jackson, Ph.D., from Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Chapel Hill, N.C., and colleagues interviewed 735 12- to 14-year-old adolescents from 14 public middle schools in the southeastern United States. About equal proportions of the students were black and white, male and female, and none smoked at the beginning of the study. In the fall of 2001, the students were asked which of 93 popular films shown in theaters from 2001 to 2002 they had seen, how often they watched television, and whether their parents had rules about the types of television shows they watched. At a follow-up interview in 2004, they were asked about their smoking behavior.

White adolescents with high exposure to R-rated movies were nearly seven times more likely to start smoking compared with those who had low exposure. Even after adjusting for other risk factors such as having a friend who smokes, lack of parental involvement and poor academic performance, those who watched more R-rated movies were still three times more likely to start smoking. White adolescents who had access to unsupervised television viewing were also more likely to start smoking. However, in black adolescents, there was no association between risky media-watching habits and smoking initiation; those with higher exposure to R-rated movies and a private television were just as likely to start smoking as those with lower exposure.

The reasons for an association between media exposure to smoking and smoking behavior present in white adolescents but not black adolescents are not known. The researchers suggest the “transportation theory” as one possible explanation. This theory speculates that the impact of a media type on an audience depends on that audience?s involvement in that media type. It has been shown that black adolescents identify better with black rather than white characters in the media. The researchers note that it may be the case that television and movies, in which the majority of actors are white, are less influential on their smoking behavior compared to white adolescents.

“Research is needed to identify the antecedents of risky media use and to understand how audience attributes, including race and other factors, moderate the effects of risk media use on health-related behaviors,” the authors conclude.

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