FRIDAY, April 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Scenes of cigarette use have become less common on prime-time television shows, and it may be linked to reduced smoking rates in the United States, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia looked at cigarette use depicted in more than 1,800 hours of popular U.S. prime-time dramas broadcast between 1955 and 2010. They also looked at smoking rates among adults during that period.
Scenes involving cigarette use on such shows fell from nearly five scenes per hour of programming (excluding commercials) in 1961 to about 0.3 scenes per hour in 2010, according to the study published online April 3 in the journal Tobacco Control.
After taking cigarette prices and other factors into account, the researchers concluded that one less depiction of smoking per hour over two years of prime-time programming was associated with an overall drop of almost two packs of cigarettes (38.5 cigarettes) a year for every adult.
This impact of fewer smoking scenes in prime-time shows is significant and half as large as the impact of higher cigarette prices, according to the researchers.
However, they said the fact that cigarette use is still shown on TV shows may have prevented an even faster decline in rates of smoking, which is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to a journal news release.
The new findings add to previous research showing that seeing other people smoke prompts cigarette cravings in adult smokers, the study authors said. Further research is needed to learn more about how depictions of smoking in other media, such as cable TV and YouTube, affect smoking rates, they concluded.
The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.