MONDAY, July 6, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Taking part in team sports lowers the odds of children smoking, but it can't compete with the powerful influence of smoking in movies, a new study finds.
Movies can shape popular taste and behavior, from clothing to cultural habits; other studies have found that seeing smoking in movies increases the chances that children will light up. As many as 30 percent to 50 percent of adolescent smokers attribute their smoking to seeing it in films, researchers say.
"Team sports is clearly protective to prevent youth from smoking," said lead researcher Anna M. Adachi-Mejia, a research assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Hood Center for Children and Families, at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H.
But movies can undo that positive effect, Adachi-Mejia said. "Parents need to be aware of the need to minimize their child's exposure to movie smoking," she said. "So even if their child plays sports, that's not enough."
Adachi-Mejia noted that parents can go to Web sites to check out whether a movie has smoking scenes or not. In addition, ratings are a good way to choose films that are appropriate for children, she added.
The report is published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
For the study, Adachi-Mejia's team collected data on 2,048 children, first in 1999 and again in 2007. Smoking exposure in movies was assessed when the children were 9 to 14 years old, and participation in team sports was assessed when the same youths were 16 to 21.
At follow-up, 17.2 percent of the individuals were smokers. Those who said they saw the most movies with smoking when they were aged 9 to 14 were much more likely to be smokers compared with those who saw the fewest movies with smoking at an early age, the researchers found.
Although people who did not take part in team sports were twice as likely to become smokers as those who played sports, "in both team sports participants and nonparticipants, the proportion of established smokers increased from lowest to highest levels of movie smoking exposure by the same amount, 19.3 percent," the researchers wrote.
In addition, smokers were more likely to be male, older, have parents with lower levels of education, have more friends who smoked, have parents who smoked, have poorer school performance and be more likely to engage in risky behaviors. Smokers were also less likely to be in school when they were 16 to 21, the researchers found.
Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said the powerful effects of films can be overcome by making children realize the dangers of smoking.
"The power of survey research of this kind to establish cause-and-effect is limited, but the conclusions reached here with data are consistent with those suggested by common sense," Katz said.
Smoking in movies often associates cigarettes with sophistication. And the more of this children see, the more inclined they are to see cigarette use in a favorable light, Katz said. "The findings here lend support to efforts to purge smoking from the movies to help reduce rates of smoking initiation by young people," he said.
The findings with regard to team sport participation are even stronger, Katz said. "This study can't tell us whether kids who smoke are less likely to play sports, or vice versa, but both are likely. The physical demands of sport, and the culture of fitness, both discourage tobacco use," he said.
"Overall, this paper suggests that the attitudes toward smoking in the culture that surrounds a child are apt to affect the attitude, and behavior, of that child," Katz said. "Our job is to raise every child in a culture that denigrates smoking for the pernicious hazard it is."
Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said the study shows once again that smoking in the movies is associated with teen smoking.
"It further builds the case that we need policy changes to get smoking out of youth-rated films to reduce the exposure," Glantz said.
A lot of groups have been urging that films with smoking get an R rating, he noted.
"What an R rating for smoking would do is make youth-rated films -- where kids get most of their exposure to on-screen smoking -- would be smoke-free, because the producers would leave tobacco use out of the films, because they want to sell them to kids," Glantz said.
For more information on smoking in movies, visit the Common Sense Media.