“TV smoking influences adult tobacco use, study says” was the headline of a story at FOXNews.com. This is another headline that is totally deceiving, because that’s not what the study showed.
The lead author of the study, Patrick E. Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was quoted saying, “Movie tobacco cues promoting smoking initiation in teens have been extensively covered in the literature, but this [study] emphasizes that TV programming-promoted tobacco has been understudied and may be important as well.” That statement says nothing about smoking in movies or on TV actually leading to an increase in smoking in the real world.
In the same article, Kristin Carson, senior medical research scientist for respiratory medicine at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide, South Australia said, “There is a concern that seeing smoking on TV may cause adults to both re-start smoking after they have quit and keep them from quitting.” The word that cannot be ignored is “may” – that word only suggests a possibility. It does not establish any direct link between smoking in entertainment and smoking in the real world.
It is common practice for the news media and for researchers to draw conclusions from research that has not actually been proven by the research for the purpose of attracting the attention of the public, or to satisfy what can be a predetermined conclusion. For example, money may have been provided for the research on the influence of smoking on TV as part of an effort to blame smoking on TV for encouraging smoking!
After the re-election of President Reagan in the mid-80s, Attorney General Ed Meese set up a commission to study the effects of pornography on society with the predetermined goal of finding that pornography inspires deviant behavior. The conclusion of the Meese Commission Report established a direct link between pornography and deviant behavior, but it was soon revealed that the report actually failed to establish that direct link, and the report was a payback to the Religious Right for helping get Reagan re-elected.
To suggest that smoking scenes on TV and in movies encourage people to smoke based on the visual reference to smoking is a convenient ploy to attract the attention of an audience through a preconceived and simplistic theory: that we are all victims of anything we are exposed too.
If an individual can be inspired to smoke by the sight of smoking on the big or small screen, and if it is important to censor all smoking scenes, then it would also be important to prevent anyone from seeing anyone smoking in public.
From 1955 to 1964 there was an average of about three smoking scenes per hour in primetime. Between 2001 and 2010 the number declined to less than one every three hours. Smoking on television has decreased and I don’t see signs of gratuitous smoking on television, but the frequent smoking that appears in a series like “Mad Men” reflects the authenticity of the era.
Reruns of sitcoms, like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “I Love Lucy” continue to air with numerous smoking scenes. I doubt that either of those shows is targeted for criticism.
As a society, we have been conditioned to blame our negative behavior, including bad habits and addictions, on the outside influences of television and movies, which feeds into a general hysteria in America. To blame smoking on a TV show suggests that we are not accountable for our actions, which supports the growing loss of respect for personal accountability in this country. If something bad happens or if my actions are wrong – it’s not my fault!
We get ideas from television and movies, but I don’t believe entertainment can make us do something we are not already considering. Television and movies do not make you do something you really don’t want to do.
Television and movies give us ideas, but I don’t think either can be directly blamed for our negative actions. We have the power to decide what is right and what is wrong and regardless of the decision we make – we are ultimately responsible for our decisions.