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CDC report links youth smoking to movies

R RATED PINOCCHIO: The World Health Organization is trying to create an R rating for movies featuring cigarette smoking. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)
R RATED PINOCCHIO: The World Health Organization is trying to create an R rating for movies featuring cigarette smoking. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released this month found that portrayals of smoking in movies leads more young people to begin smoking.

The Aug. 20 report found that youth are two to three times more likely to begin smoking if they have been heavily exposed to tobacco use in movies.

The report was based partly on a paper prepared by the World Health Organization, which called for an R rating for all movies that depict tobacco use.

The organization hopes to prohibit minors from seeing cigarette smoking portrayed in movies.

“Celebrities who smoke are the tobacco companies’ greatest form of advertisement to young people,” said Courtney Roake, a senior and the mental health chair of ASU’s Health and Counseling Student Action Committee. “Although these companies are not allowed to outwardly advertise to youth, it seems that they have found a subtle loophole in the entertainment business.”

As more people see actors and actresses smoking in movies, it could appear to them that smoking is a normal thing to do, said Allan Markus, director of Tempe Campus Health Services.

“When you see images of people doing something and you have the belief that that is the norm, you tend to be more likely to do it,” Markus said.

An R rating would also apply to movies that portray “incidents” of smoking, which are defined as “the use or implied use of a tobacco product by an actor,” according to the CDC report.

“For the R-rated movies, I understand that it’s because of the kids, but I don’t think it needs to be an R rating — maybe PG-13,” said Taylor Albright, a health and sciences freshman.

Smoking has even appeared in animated children’s movies, such as through Cruella de Vil’s character in “101 Dalmatians.”

“Movies should be given an R rating if smoking is a prevalent part of the story,” said biology sophomore Alison Goulder, and chair-elect of the Health and Counseling Student Action Committee. “Younger teens, those who would frequent PG-13 movies, can be very impressionable, so it is vitally important to stress that smoking poses a tremendous health risk and is not a behavior that should be emulated.”

Other students, however, feel limiting smoking in movies will not be effective.

“It’s not that I like smoking, but it’s everywhere, so an R rating is pointless,” nutrition freshman Alejandra Coronada said.

For ASU, the percentage of students who smoke has significantly decreased since 2002, according to data from ASU’s Health Services. In 2009, one in six ASU students had admitted to smoking within the past 30 days. In 2002 it was closer to one in four students.

As the number of students who smoke decreases, the Health and Counseling Student Action Committee’s efforts to promote ASU as a smoke-free campus have increased.

Four hundred and twenty other universities have already made the transition to a smoke-free campus, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.

Last fall, the student action committee began promoting the idea of a smoke-free campus by collecting signatures and tabling outside of the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus.

With more than 3,400 signatures, the committee took its petition to ASU’s five student governments with evidence that student body supports the idea of a smoke-free campus, she said.

While the intent was to gain approval for a smoke-free campus, the measure put forward for a student vote varied across ASU’s campuses.

The Undergraduate Student Government voted in favor of designated smoking zones while the Downtown government passed a resolution to endorse the creation of a smoke-free campus. Polytechnic already had smoking zones, but voted down the smoke-free campus, and West voted against both smoking zones and a smoke-free campus.

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