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Entertainment’s Impact on Teen Smoking

by Jane Wangersky | July 17th, 2015 | Entertainment, Teens

cigarettes (400x400)Though only 8% of teens in the U.S. smoke — according to truth®, a national youth smoking prevention campaign — that still means two million kids alive today will die prematurely from diseases caused by smoking, says the Center for Disease Control. Obviously, teen smoking is still an issue — what’s not so obvious is that movies and social media have something to do with that.

“In 2012, the Surgeon General concluded that exposure to onscreen smoking in movies causes young people to start smoking,” says a CDC fact sheet. In spite of that, and in spite of the fact that in the real world, smoking has become so unacceptable it’s hard even to find a place to do it, it’s holding steady or increasing in movies rated anything but G. For example, the CDC says, “In 2014, the number of tobacco incidents in the average youth-rated movie with tobacco (38 incidents) was higher than in any year since at least 2002.” The Surgeon General has said the damage could be reduced by giving an R rating to all films that show smoking, but it’s hard to imagine the film industry falling in line with that. Movies aren’t the only pro-smoking influence in teens’ lives, either.

“Smoking-related behavior is being renormalized largely due to social media – where pictures of people smoking are easily seen and shared,” says Robin Koval, CEO and president of Legacy (the foundation responsible for truth) in a recent media release on PRNewswire. Their viral music video Left Swipe Dat (referring to “swiping left” to define something as unattractive) counters this by bringing negative attention to smoking images posted on dating site profiles. truth is also going on tour this summer, as it has for 15 years now, to bring the anti-smoking message straight to teens. The tour will be stopping at the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival schedule as well as at Six Flags theme parks and other places and events — more than 100, so there’s a good chance your teen will hear the message. (Which is good, because parents need help with this kind of thing.) It’s summed up by “let’s be the generation to ‘Finish It’ and end tobacco use for good.”

Some generation has to finish it (my own was apparently too busy rebelling against parents who didn’t want us to smoke but couldn’t manage to quit themselves) so let’s hope that changing what our teens see on screen changes how the world sees smoking.

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