(HANOVER, N.H.) -- Teens who watch movies in which smoking is common, regardless of whether the film is rated PG-13 or R, are more likely to pick up the habit, a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics finds.
After surveying 6,522 adolescents ages 10 to 14 over a two-year period, researchers found that smoking in movies rated PG-13 had the same impact as those rated R, suggesting that its mainly seeing the habit -- and not other adult behaviors -- that affects whether kids will choose to light up. Films rated G or PG, in which smoking is uncommon, were not linked to teen smoking.
"Movies affect behavior and the more movies kids watch, the more likely they are to be influenced," Dr. James Sargent, a professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth University and one of the study's authors, told ABC News Radio. "Seeing lots of smoking in movies shapes how they think about smoking. It shapes how they think about what smoking might do for them, and it increases the risk that they'll try smoking."
Researchers found that about 60 percent of teenagers' exposure to smoking in movies comes from PG-13 and other youth-rated films. They suggest changing movie ratings accordingly to lower the rate of teen smoking.
"Movies are currently rated R for things like profanity that have no impact on health and they're really not rated with respect to risk behaviors like smoking and drinking, so what we're trying to get Hollywood to do is to include things that matter in the rating system," Sargent said.
Eliminating smoking from youth-rated films would lower teen smoking by about 18 percent, he pointed out.
It is worth noting that other factors, such as one's environment and family -- which were not examined in this study -- could also influence whether a child chooses to start smoking.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio