Smoking on TV and film lights up cravings in smokers

Saturday 22 January 2011 01:00

If you're trying to quit smoking, it's probably best to switch off the TV and avoid watching films, a new study suggests. Previous research has reported that watching actors puff cigarettes on screen ( Mad Men anyone?) triggers cravings in smokers, but a new study published January 19 points to why.

According to the research, watching actors smoke cigarettes activates the part of the brain that plans hand movements in smokers, such as movements required for lighting up and taking a drag.

US researchers selected the 2003 Nicolas Cage film Matchstick Men because smoking plays a prominent role in the film, but sex, violence, and alcohol abuse don't, which researchers feared would skew the results. The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

To find out what happens in the brain when watching onscreen smoking, the researchers asked 17 smokers and 17 nonsmokers to watch the first 30 minutes of the movie while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI), which measures blood flow to different areas of the brain as a way to track brain activity. The scans revealed that smokers' brains went into action, already planning the movements of their smoking hand, which was not the case for the nonsmokers. The volunteers did not know the experiment was about smoking.

The Guardian reports that cigarette smoking is a habit that kills five million people worldwide each year. In 2010, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed that smoking scenes encouraged children and adolescents to light up. While smoking on television and in movies may have become less common in recent years, the organization states that around half of the popular US movies in 2009 involved smoking scenes.

To find out which popular films have smoking scenes, check out these websites:

Ready to take your last few puffs? Here is a good start:

Or watch this video:

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