Hollywood Smokers Set Bad Example for Young Fans

Published February 23rd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Leading Hollywood stars John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio and Sharon Stone have been accused of encouraging young people to take up smoking by lighting up on screen, according to AFP, citing research. 

The British specialist journal Tobacco Control reports in next month's issue that more than 630 students aged 10-19 from rural schools in New England were surveyed about their smoking habits and their attitudes to smoking, and were asked to name their favorite movie star. 

The researchers, led by Jennifer Tickle from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, then assessed on-screen smoking by 43 movie stars in films made between 1994 and 1996, said the agency. 

Youngsters whose favorite stars smoked on screen were far likelier to smoke than classmates whose stars never smoked, they found. 

And the more the star smoked, the more favorably the teen viewed smoking, said the report. 

This was especially the case for DiCaprio, Stone and Travolta, who each smoked in three or more of the assessed films. 

Joe Camel with a long list of young celebrities like Ethan Hawke, Drew Barrymore, Johnny Depp, Neve Campbell, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Uma Thurman, Matthew McConaughey, Janeane Garofalo and Keanu Reeves, smoke in real life as well as on screen, according to reports. 

Smoking is a large part of the film industry. USA Today once evaluated all the movies in wide release on a given weekend and, of those 18 films, 17 featured some form of smoking ("Mighty Ducks 3" was the only film with no smoking). 

Recent films that were especially popular, "Reality Bites," "Pulp Fiction" and "Romeo & Juliet," each featured one or more protagonists who smoked.  

On smoking's defensive end is Winona Ryder, who after being singled out as a bad role model for teens on "60 Minutes," received a petition urging her to stop smoking from high school students in her hometown of Petaluma, Calif. Ryder later responded, "I don't apologize for smoking on screen. It should be our choice, and I don't think we influence people to smoke." 

In the early days of film, usually it was the villains that were featured smoking. A classic example is director Roberto Rossellini's "Open City" (1946), in which the film's evil Nazis constantly puff away on screen. 

While smoking may be largely absent from television, it's an omnipresent element in other forms of media and in the lives of most young actors. On the show "Friends," smoking is rarely seen, but off the set, five of the six friends are heavy smokers (David Schwimmer is the only nonsmoking friend, though hopefully now he's been joined by the recently pregnant Lisa Kudrow). Ironically, in a plot from last season, Chandler was encouraged to quit his smoking habit – Albawaba.com  

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