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Declining visibility of tobacco use on TV linked to drop in smoking rates

The declining visibility of tobacco products on prime-time U.S. broadcast television shows is linked to a drop in smoking of nearly two packs of cigarettes per adult per year, according to a study published online in the journal Tobacco Control on April 3.

The study, the largest-ever of tobacco use on television, found that the drop in portrayals of smoking and tobacco use in prime-time dramas mirrored the national decline in consumption, according to researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania.

Importantly, annual changes in the amount of smoking seen on popular TV dramas also predicted changes in U.S. cigarette consumption.

The finding of a close relationship between smoking in TV dramas and national smoking rates echoes earlier research by APPC showing that smoking trends in top-grossing movies since 1950 paralleled national cigarette consumption. However, the current study was able to not only analyze annual changes in smoking rates on TV but use those changes to predict annual changes in U.S. cigarette consumption. The findings provide stronger evidence suggesting that screen-based media portrayals of smoking have contributed to the U.S. smoking epidemic.

“TV characters who smoke are likely to trigger the urge to smoke in cigarette users, making it harder for them to quit,” said Patrick E. Jamieson, the study’s lead author and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s Adolescent Risk Communication Institute. “Despite the decline since 1961, tobacco use on TV remains a cause for concern.”

The study examined 1,838 hours of popular U.S. prime-time dramas shown on broadcast television over 56 years, from 1955 to 2010.

For the complete news release on this study, click here. For the study in Tobacco Control, click here.

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