PG-13 films account for nearly two-thirds of the smoking scenes adolescents see on the big screen, according to the two-year study, which surveyed roughly 5,000 children ages 10 to 14 about the movies they'd seen and whether they'd ever tried a cigarette.
Smoking in PG-13 films -- including background shots and other passing instances -- was just as strongly linked with real-world experimentation as the smoking in R-rated films. For every 500 smoking scenes a child saw in PG-13 movies, his or her likelihood of trying cigarettes increased by 49%. The comparable figure for R-rated movies was 33%, a statistically negligible difference.
Assigning an R rating to all movies portraying smoking would lower the proportion of kids who try cigarettes at this age by 18%, the authors estimate. (Children under 17 must be accompanied by an adult to buy a ticket for an R-rated movie.)
"The movie industry [should] treat smoking like it treats profanity and sex and violence," says lead author Dr. James D. Sargent, a cancer-prevention specialist and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School, in Lebanon, New Hampshire. "If saying the 'F' word twice gets you an R rating, certainly something as important as smoking should get you an R rating."
Image: Teenagers at the movies, via Shutterstock.