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Researchers link cigarette smoking in adolescents with excessive television viewing

The number of U.S. adolescents who smoke cigarettes has been increasing since 1991, with 70 percent of smokers becoming regular smokers by age 18. Despite bans on television tobacco advertising, smoking on television remains widespread. Young people apparently notice it. Youths who watch 5 or more hours of TV per day are six times more likely to begin smoking cigarettes than youths who watch less than 2 hours a day. TV, with its frequent portrayals of smoking as personally and socially rewarding, may be an effective indirect method of tobacco promotion, according to a recent study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (National Research Service Award training grant T32 HS00063).

Researchers led by Pradeep P. Gidwani, M.D., M.P.H., of Children's Hospital and Health Center in San Diego, CA, used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, Child Cohort, to examine the association of TV viewing (based on an average of adolescent and parent reports) in 1990 among 592 youths ages 10 to 15 years with smoking initiation from 1990-1992. They controlled for many of the factors found to be associated with both TV viewing and smoking incidence among youths, including ethnicity, household income, poverty, and school performance. In 1990, one-third of the youths watched more than 5 hours of television per day, and one-tenth watched 0 to 2 hours per day.

Among these young people overall, smoking increased from 4.8 percent in 1990 to 12.3 percent in 1992. Youths who watched more than 4 to 5 hours of TV per day were 5.2 times more likely to start smoking than those who watched TV 0 to 2 hours per day; young people who watched 3 to 4 hours were 3.15 times more likely to being smoking, and those who watched more than 2 to 3 hours were 2 times as likely. TV viewing may serve as a marker for youths who exhibit high-risk behaviors such as smoking. Alternatively, TV viewing may substitute for activities that build resilience and help young people guard against high-risk behaviors, conclude the authors.

See "Television viewing and initiation of smoking among youth," by Dr. Gidwani, Arthur Sobol, A.M., William DeJong, Ph.D., and others, in the September 2002 Pediatrics 110(3), pp. 505-508.

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