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Jay Winsten Headshot

Where there's smoke...

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Is the glamorization of tobacco smoking by Hollywood partially responsible for kids getting hooked on the deadly habit? A number of commentators responded to my last post on this subject with a resounding "no!"

But consider this data collected by the Sacramento Chapter of the American Lung Association:

-- In a 12-month period spanning 2004-2005, 66 percent of the top-50 grossing films showed characters smoking.

-- In that same time frame, 68 percent of all PG-13 films showed characters smoking.

-- There were 12.8 incidents of smoking per hour of running time for the top-50 grossing films.

-- There were 14.2 incidents of smoking per hour of running time for PG-13 films.

Consider that several research studies have found an association between the frequency of exposure to depictions of smoking in films, and teenagers' likelihood of experimenting with smoking: the more they watch, the greater their risk. (Nothing surprising about that; few would doubt Hollywood's influence in defining what's "cool.")

And, consider that the average age of initiation of smoking is 13. Imagine a 13-year-old child watching PG-13 films, and being bombarded 14 times per hour with powerfully seductive images of smoking by their favorite stars. It's really tough for an anti-smoking public health campaign to compete with these powerful images. (Even when it's the "bad" character who smokes, that's often attractive to a rebellious teen.)

The nicotine in cigarettes is highly addictive. Young people believe they'll be able to quit, but frequently they can't. Each day, an additional 3,000 young people in the U.S. start smoking, and 1,000 of them will eventually die from a tobacco-related disease.

No, it's not entirely Hollywood's fault. Other important factors include smoking by parents and peers. But Hollywood is certainly part of the problem, and we need them at the table as part of the solution.

I appreciate concerns that have been raised about a potential "slippery slope" of interference with Hollywood's depiction of a whole set of health-related issues. But tobacco smoking is different. It's dangerous and deadly at any level of use. It's the Number One preventable cause of premature death. By tackling this issue, Hollywood can help save many lives in the U.S. and abroad.