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OBJECTIVE—To assess the relation between adolescents' favourite movie stars, the portrayal of tobacco use by those stars in contemporary motion pictures, and adolescent smoking.
DESIGN AND SETTING—632 students (sixth to 12th grade, ages 10-19 years) from five rural New England public schools completed a voluntary, self administered survey in October 1996. The survey assessed tobacco use, other variables associated with adolescent smoking, and favourite movie star. In addition, tobacco use by 43 selected movie stars was measured in films between 1994 and 1996.
OUTCOME MEASURES—Students were categorised into an ordinal five point index (tobacco status) based on their smoking behaviour and their smoking susceptibility: non-susceptible never smokers, susceptible never smokers, non-current experimenters, current experimenters, and smokers. We determined the adjusted cumulative odds of having advanced smoking status based on the amount of on-screen tobacco use by their favourite film star.
RESULTS—Of the 43 stars, 65% used tobacco at least once, and 42% portrayed smoking as an essential character trait in one or more films. Stars who smoked more than twice in a film were considered smokers. For adolescents whose favourite stars smoked in only one film, the odds of being higher on the smoking index was 0.78 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.53 to 1.15). For adolescents whose favourite stars smoked in two films, the odds of being higher on the smoking index was 1.5 (95% CI 1.01 to 2.32). For adolescents whose favourite stars smoked in three or more films (Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone, John Travolta), the odds of being higher on the smoking index was 3.1 (95% CI 1.34 to 7.12). Among never smokers (n = 281), those who chose stars who were smokers in three or more films were much more likely to have favourable attitudes toward smoking (adjusted odds ratio 16.2, 95% CI 2.3 to 112).
CONCLUSIONS—Adolescents who choose movie stars who use tobacco on-screen are significantly more likely to have an advanced smoking status and more favourable attitudes toward smoking than adolescents who choose non-smoking stars. This finding supports the proposition that the portrayal of tobacco use in contemporary motion pictures, particularly by stars who are admired by adolescents, contributes to adolescent smoking.
Keywords: adolescent smoking; movies; media influences