The influence of celebrities and smoking, part III

Anne Mitchell Health Guide
  • Photographs of celebrities smoking in public used to be an unusual sight – movie studios would even take steps to ensure the images of their stars remained untarnished by such public behavior – especially the images of their female stars.

    It is only in recent years that photos of smoking celebrities have become so prevalent. This is partly due to the popularity of camera phones (anyone can be part of the paparazzi) and to the emergence of blogging (anyone can be a media publisher). But could it also be due to more celebrities becoming smokers?

    Nationally, smoking has decreased across all age groups, but is still highest among those who are youngest and those with the least amount of education. One obvious reason for the youthfulness of current smokers is that those who continue to smoke eventually die of their addiction.

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    The high rate of smoking among those with less education may be because as people attain more education, they encounter fewer and fewer peers who smoke (it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle). Studies have shown that being around parents and peers who smoke is a strong predictor of future smoking behavior – it becomes an acceptable habit, perhaps even a desirable one.

    Which leads me to my notion that celebrities photographed smoking may lead to more celebrities smoking. Could it be that they are as influenced as the rest of us when they see their peers smoking? We know it’s not related to their income level – I’m not so sure about education level being a factor (how many celebrities have four-year college degrees yet still smoke? that could be an interesting research project).

    If celebrities are caught smoking in public and have no problem with being filmed smoking in movies, perhaps their peers are being influenced to make similar decisions. We already know that teens (and the rest of us, for that matter) are affected by seeing celebrities smoke on screen.

    In fact, according to research conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control, “Nonsmoking teens whose favorite stars frequently smoke on screen are sixteen times more likely to have positive attitudes about smoking in the future.” Furthermore, this movie influence accounts for 52% of all new teen smokers.

    So do celebrities influence each other to smoke? My guess is yes, and once they start, they are as likely to become addicted as the rest of us – after all, they are only human. Unfortunately, some of them end up paying the ultimate price for their addiction – the same price that is paid by over 1,000 Americans who die from a smoking-related illness every day.


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Published On: April 13, 2008