Smoking on the Big Screen

Seeing a movie character smoking increases smokers' brain area that controls thier smoking hand

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Watching actors smoke in movies causes smokers' brains to prepare for a cigarette, according to a study that appears in the January 19 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Using functional MRI (fMRI), a team of researchers led by Todd Heatherton, Ph.D., and Dartmouth College graduate student Dylan Wagner compared the brain activity of 17 smokers to that of 17 non-smokers as they watched the first half hour of the movie "Matchstick Men." The researchers chose this movie because it contains many scenes with heavy amounts of smoking.

When smokers saw the actors smoking, the fMRI showed increased activity in the part of the brain that controls the hand with which they smoke. Researchers also observed greater brain activity in parts of the brain that are associated with perception and coordination of actions.

Smokers who are trying to quit don't always think to avoid movies with lots of smoking, says Wagner. These findings add to a body of evidence indicating that watching movies with heavy amounts of smoking increases a smokers craving for a cigarette.

According to a 2010 report by the CDC, tobacco use in films has decreased in recent years, yet about half of popular films in 2009 still contained tobacco imagery. The CDC has warned that teens are more likely to smoke if they are exposed to onscreen smoking. This new study may suggest that this warning should apply to more than teenagers.

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Last Updated:
January 27, 2011