Whether heroes or villains, actors who smoke affect teens

July 8, 2009

Actors on the silver screen who light up, whether "good guys" or "bad guys," have sway on teenagers' decision to smoke, new research shows.

Actors on the silver screen who light up, whether "good guys" or "bad guys," have sway on teenagers' decision to smoke, new research in Pediatrics (July) shows.

Dartmouth Medical School researchers set out to determine whether the type of character who is smoking makes a difference in persuading teens to smoke.

"It's true that 'bad guys' are more often smokers in the movies, but there really are not that many 'bad guys' compared to 'good guys.' Episode for episode, youth who saw negative character smoking were more likely to start smoking, but since overall there is so much more exposure to 'good guy' smoking, the net effect is similar," said Susanne Tanski, lead study author, in a statement.

Data showed that teens who were at low risk of smoking but willing to seek out new sensations were more impacted by "bad guy" smoking in the movies.

The study is the latest in a series of studies by Dartmouth researchers looking at connections between movie smoking and alcohol consumption and teens trying the substances. Earlier this year, two Dartmouth researchers even noted in a researcher letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association that there was a downward trend in smoking incidences in movies and among U.S. eighth graders from 1996 to 2007.

However, researchers in the latest study note that even though the trend is downward, teens are still picking up the habit and continue to be influenced by what they view on the big screen.