Butt Out Cigarettes

“Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Smoking causes many diseases and reduces the health of smokers in general.”

– Center for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/)

This message has been drilled at us from teachers, authorities figures, and health professions since the 1950’s when a correlation was made between cancer and tobacco. Yet, according to the American Council for Drug Education, about 23% of adults still smoke, and 30% of adolescents. Most know the damage smoking can cause, so what is causing them to light up? One factor: the media.

The media can affect our thinking in many ways. Social learning theory says we imitate the things we see on television. According to a Washington study, “Children interpret what they see and imitate the behavior they perceive as rewarding.”

And what is most rewarding to teenagers and youth on the brink of adulthood- being cool. The characters shown smoking in the media are often beautiful, sexy, appealing, touch, and most importantly- cool. A review of 250 top box office hits from the years 1988 – 1997, showed that 89% of these movies contain episodes of smoking and tobacco use.

According to a Dartmouth study seeing smoking in movies can triple the chances of an adolescent trying tobacco. “In a study of New England adolescents, those who saw the most amount of smoking in movies were 2.7 times more likely to try smoking compared to those who saw the least amount of smoking.”

Stop! Not all hope is lost. Educating citizens how to interpret and analyze media will lower their chances of smoking, According to Brian Primack, M.D., Ed. M., assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh’s general internal medicine, “Media literacy is one of the few area we can actively affect change. It’s encouraging that media literacy, which is so eminently teachable, shows such promise as a component of a comprehensive tobacco intervention program.”

Because the media affects our attitudes and normative beliefs, media literacy has the capability to buffer the influence of media messages and their impacts on our attitudes and beliefs.

According to a University of Pittsburgh study, higher smoking media literacy is correlated with lower smoking habits among college students.

The study concluded that media literacy is an effective and flexible tool to combat smoking, whether it is prevention or intervention.

The graph above shows media literacy scores on the bottom, correlated with current smokers and susceptibility to smoking on the left. As you can see, the higher the media literacy score, the lower the rate of smoking and smoking susceptibility.

For more information and activities to increase smoking media literacy, please visit http://www.frankwbaker.com/smokingintroduction.htm.


Austin E.W., Cohen, M., Fitzgerald, E., Miller A., Pinkleton B. (2007). A statewide evaluation of the effectiveness of media literacy training to prevent tobacco use among adolescents. Health Communication.

Carroll, M.V., Fine M.J., Primack B.A., Sidani, J. (2009). Associations between smoking and media literacy in college students. Journal of Health Communication.






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