If You Give a TV Star a Cigarette

TV portrayals of smoking appear linked to adult smoking rates

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) When teens see stars smoking in movies and on TV, they're more likely to light up themselves, says past research. But is the same true for adults?

It seems that way, based on one interpretation of a recent study. Researchers found that the amount of smoking portrayed on TV was linked to adults' smoking rates.

Seeing someone light up may cause an adult to crave a cigarette themselves, or make it harder to stay quit of them, the researchers suggested.

Less smoking on TV may be related to fewer cigarettes smoked, they found.

"Discuss options for quitting smoking with your doctor."

This study, conducted by Patrick Jamieson, PhD, and Daniel Romer, PhD, of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, compared tobacco use as shown on TV with adult smoking rates.

These researchers analyzed the use of tobacco in 1,838 hours of popular US television shows that ran from the years 1955 through 2010.

The trends related to smoking that the researchers found in the television shows were then compared to trends found among adults in the general population.

Since 1955, the use of cigarettes on TV has declined gradually, just as the use of cigarettes among adults in real life has.

After considering changes in cigarette prices that might affect smoking rates, fewer cigarette ads and similar factors, the researchers calculated how much TV use correlated with real-life use.

They determined that one change in tobacco use (such as one less cigarette smoked) per hour of TV episodes during two years of programming was linked to a change of 38.5 cigarettes per adult.

In other words, one less cigarette smoked per two episodes of popular shows was linked to about 39 fewer cigarettes smoked by US adults during a two-year period.

"The decline in TV tobacco portrayal was associated with nearly half the effect of increases in cigarette prices over the study period," the researchers wrote.

Changes in cigarette prices therefore had double the effect on smoking rates that TV portrayals might have had.

The researchers concluded that the link between TV portrayals of smoking and adults' smoking rates matched up with what's already known regarding an adult's cigarette craving after seeing someone else light up.

The study's findings do not mean that less tobacco use on the small screen has caused lower smoking rates in the general population. However, the trend found makes it possible that seeing less smoking on TV prevented adults from lighting up since they may not have their cravings triggered.

Past studies have found that seeing others smoking in movies increased adults' craving for cigarettes afterward, making it harder for a smoker to skip a cigarette or a quitter to avoid relapse.

This study was published April 3 in the journal Tobacco Control. The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Annenberg Public Policy Center. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 3, 2014
Last Updated:
April 3, 2014