When celebrities smoke cigarettes on screen or are caught by the paparazzi smoking in public, they send a powerful message to our youth that smoking is both cool and acceptable.
Ben Affleck recently spoke publicly on Oprah about quitting and how much better he feels. Having a child was the big motivator for him, as it is for many of us. What he didn't speak about was how his quitting serves as an example for not just his own children but for all kids who see him as a role model.
Celebrities are role models whether they like it or not. And if more of them will speak up about their efforts to quit smoking and publicly celebrate their successes, this will send the right message to kids who need to see the realities of the addiction. This will help counteract the message kids get when they see smokers in movies and magazines.
America's Next Top Model recently banned smoking on their show because of the effect it might have on their young viewers. This is to be lauded and is a huge step in the right direction. They have set a wonderful example and we can hope others will soon follow suit.
Modeling is a career aspiration for many starry-eyed young girls and they pattern their lives after how they see their heroes behaving. And how often do models become smokers in order to keep their weight down? I've even encountered articles where some models talk about it as a sort of weight-control secret. This is just what our young girls need to hear when they are learning how to grow into their womanly figures
The rise in anorexia and bulimia has seemed to go hand-in-hand with the rise in obesity among kids. The popular media is where girls learn about make-up, clothes, and boys. They also learn about body image and compare themselves to what they see. Of course, this topic has been explored in depth elsewhere and I only touch on it to bring up the connection between media and behavior.
Kids learn from what they see and seeing beautiful and glamorous people smoke makes them want to be like that. Advertisers certainly know this - after all, how many ugly people have you seen in cigarette ads? It's time that the movie industry and celebrities take responsibility for their roles in triggering adolescent smoking.
In fact, recent studies have shown that smoking in movies is the most powerful pro-tobacco influence on kids today, accounting for 52% of adolescents who start smoking (http://smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu/problem/moviessell.html). When we add in the effects of peer pressure, it's no wonder that so many kids start smoking despite all the news of the negative health effects.
Kids feel invincible and most believe they won't be smokers for very long - at least they think that until they first try to quit. But by then they're hooked and they may well be in their thirties or forties before they can finally break free - if they live that long. This is a serious matter and deserves action by those who can make a difference - those in the public eye whose actions are so carefully scrutinized by our children.