Smoking in films influences viewers

In collaboration with the Press Association

Smokers who watch actors lighting up on-screen may be more likely to continue smoking in future, a new study has found. The research, conducted by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School's Norris Cotton Cancer Centre, the University of Waterloo and Central Michigan University, in the USA, also showed that on-screen smoking may lead non-smokers to have less negative ideas about smoking. Geoffrey Fong, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo and co-author of the study in Psychological Science, said: "Our finding that exposure to smoking in a movie affected non-smokers as well doesn't mean that non-smokers are suddenly going to be lighting up. "However, the subtle influence of smoking in the movies may lead non-smokers to be slightly less negative about smoking or may lead them to believe that smoking is a more normal behaviour than would otherwise be the case." The study looked at 52 male college undergraduates, approximately half of whom claimed to be daily smokers. Participants watched a film clip in which an actor either smoked or did not smoke, and were then asked to describe how much they felt they identified with the character. Among both smokers and non-smokers, identifying with the smoking actor led to greater implicit association with smoking themselves, suggesting that watching on-screen smoking influences smoking-related thoughts, regardless of whether or not the viewer actually smokes. Smoking is due to be banned in all enclosed public places and workplaces in England on July 1st, following the introduction of similar bans in the Irish Republic, Scotland and, more recently, Wales and Northern Ireland. As well as protecting people from the dangers of secondhand smoke and encouraging smokers to quit, it is hoped that the ban will play an important role in denormalising smoking and reducing its acceptance in society. The government has predicted that around 600,000 people will give up as a result of the smoking ban.