Smoking with the Stars: How Movies Influence the Urge to Smoke
Even the rating system developed by the Motion Picture Association of America takes into account whether the smoking in the movie is pervasive, whether smoking is glamorized, and whether the smoking is there for an historic or another mitigating context.
A recent study looked at the effects that viewing both photographic and motion picture images of smoking had on smoking urges. Lochbuehler, Engels & Scholte (2009) compared both the urges and the actual smoking behavior that resulted from viewing images of smoking.
The researchers of the study conducted two exercises. In the first, 31 adult smokers were examined for cravings after they were exposed to pictures of smoking depicted and pictures where smoking is not depicted.
In both exercises, a visual analogue scale was used. During the study using photographs, the authors also administered the Questionnaire of Smoking Urges. One hour after the study using movie clips was completed, each participant was called and asked how many cigarettes they had smoked in the hour since the study.
The results of the study show that there was no effect on those participants' cravings who viewed the movie clips, after adjusting for baseline smoking cravings. However, the cravings for those in the group that viewed photographs were impacted.
There are some limitations to the study’s results. The generalizability of the study may be limited because of the small sample size and the university-based sample. In addition, the movie clips used were all from the movie Atonement, and different media choices could provide a different response among participants.
The findings of the study suggest that more research is needed to fully understand the effects of smoking images on cravings. Because the study focused on movie clips from only one film, its results may more reflect an impression of a particular character or scene depicted in the film.
Smoking, and how it is portrayed in the media, will continue to be widely discussed and tested by scientific research. Advocates for cancer prevention will encourage studies to examine the effects of smoking in movies and how to portray the behavior responsibly.