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TV Linked to Declining US Smoking Rates

Update Date: Apr 04, 2014 06:04 PM EDT

Researchers have linked the decline in smoking rates to the dwindling visibility of tobacco in prime time American television drama programs.

New research reveals that limited visibility of tobacco products on television is partly responsible for the fall in smoking prevalence of up to two packs of cigarettes per adult a year. Researchers believe the impact of dwindling visibility of tobacco in prime time US television may be as much as half of that caused by price increases.

For the study, researchers watched and coded 1838 hours of popular U.S. prime-time dramas broadcast between 1955 and 2010 to determine the impact of the depiction of tobacco products on smokers.

The study then compared these trends with smoking prevalence of cigarettes among U.S. adults during this period. The findings revealed that the depiction of tobacco products, including smoking, purchasing, and handling, has fallen since 1961. What's more, the decline in tobacco TV visibility seems to correlate with the decline in cigarette consumption. Researchers explained that TV tobacco use fell from 4.96 instances per hour of programming (excluding advertising) in 1961 to 0.29 instances per hour in 2010.

After accounting for changes in cigarette prices and other confounding factors, researchers found that one less tobacco event per episode hour across two years of programming significantly predicted an annual fall of nearly two packs of cigarettes or 38.5 cigarettes for every American adult.

Researchers said the findings also suggest that continuing TV depiction of tobacco use may have stalled an even faster decline of smoking, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Researchers said these findings are consistent with other studies that show that exposure to tobacco cues triggers cravings for cigarettes in adult smokers.

The findings are published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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