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A New Approach to Preventing Teen Smoking

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

A study published in the Journal of School Health finds media literacy is more effective in preventing teenagers from smoking than traditional anti-smoking efforts.

Dr. Brian Primack, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics, and director of the Program for Research on Media and Health at University of Pittsburgh was lead author in the study.

Primack describes a hypothetical comparison from his study's findings.

"You might have 2 different young people both very similar in terms of socioeconomic background, in terms of intelligence, in terms of experience, and whether their parents smoke and that type of thing. However, one of the people sees an image of smoking in a popular movie and it simply washes over them, maybe goes into their conscious and/or subconscious and makes them more likely to think that smoking, as you said, is glamorous, is empowering, is exciting and something he’ll want to do."

He says the other young person in this scenario is given a media literacy education, such as knowledge of how Sylvester Stallone once signed an agreement to smoke in 5 different movies in exchange for $500,000.

"So that kid," says Primack "When they see that episode of smoking, they're much more likely perhaps, to take a second look and to say, 'Geez, I wonder if this actor was influenced, I wonder if the director or the screenwriter or the producer was influenced.' And they may not take that message at face value like the other person. And we're finding that, that more media literate person turns out to be much less likely to become a smoker and become addicted to cigarettes."

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