TUESDAY, March 3, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Although many parents believe smoking and drinking alcohol should be factored into movie ratings, fewer than half of parents surveyed felt such behaviors warranted an "R" rating for a film.
And, only about one-quarter felt that smoking in movies was enough of a factor on its own to justify an R rating. Yet, past studies have shown that high exposure to smoking scenes in movies increases the risk of teen smoking.
"Parents need to know that in terms of risk factors for smoking and possibly alcohol use, movies have a strong influence on children," said the study's lead author, Meghan Longacre, an instructor and research coordinator at the Hood Center for Children and Families at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H.
"I think our study suggests that researchers and public health advocates need to do a bit more work to educate parents about the relationship between movie smoking exposure and children's initiation, and to motivate and assist them to monitor their children's movie viewing," she added.
Dr. Jonathan Pletcher, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said the "onus can't all be on the parents. This goes beyond what a parent is able to control in our society. Kids are getting bombarded with these messages every day."
But, Pletcher added, smoking and drinking are definitely things that parents should try to talk about with their children. That way, you can help put these behaviors into context and convey your own values to your child, he said.
The current Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating system judges films based on adult themes, violence, language, nudity, sex and drug use. Because research has linked movie smoking with an increased risk of teen smoking, public health advocates have requested that smoking behavior also be included in the rating system, according to background information in the study, which was published in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
The MPAA recently said it would consider smoking along with many other factors in rating films. However, the MPAA doesn't take alcohol use into account.
To assess the importance of these behaviors to parents, Longacre and her colleagues interviewed 2,564 parents from New Hampshire and Vermont about movie ratings. Most of the parents surveyed were mothers, and most were white. Their children were between the ages of 9 and 15 years.
Just over half felt that cigarettes should be factored into the ratings system, while 66 percent felt alcohol use should be. Almost 29 percent of parents thought that smoking in a film justified an R rating. Nearly 42 percent said that alcohol consumption was enough by itself to garner an R designation.
Longacre said the researchers were somewhat surprised that the parents seemed to be more concerned about drinking in movies than smoking. "It could reflect the fact that parents aren't aware of the research on exposure to movie smoking," she said. Or, "it also could reflect a greater recognition that adolescents are more likely to drink than smoke, and/or a greater concern with the negative consequences of teen drinking that may seem more immediate and dire to parents, such as drinking and driving, compared to the longer-term health consequences of smoking."
Pletcher pointed out one weakness of the study -- there wasn't a great deal of diversity in the study population, and he noted that there are "wide variations in how much people smoke or drink in different communities. In different areas, it's quite possible you'd get different results."
Read more about smoking in the movies at Smoke Free Movies from the University of California, San Francisco.