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Why you shouldn't let your kids watch Twilight or X-Men

A scene from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

If you take your child to the movies, would you be surprised to see some of the main characters smoking cigarettes? According to the research, there's a fair chance you, and your child, will see movie stars lighting up on the big screen.

The number of movies aimed at young people that showed scenes of people smoking rose last year, after a five-year decline, according to a new study. Some of the movies that depicted tobacco use were aimed at young children, such as the cartoon Rango, as well as Hugo, X-Men: First Class and the excessively popular The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 .

The findings are troubling to anti-tobacco advocates, as it has been well-established that young people who see smoking on screen are more likely to light up themselves.

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"Hollywood has still not fixed this problem," Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, and lead author of the study, said in a media release. "The result of the increase in on-screen smoking in youth-rated films will be more kids starting to smoke and developing tobacco-induced disease."

The study, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, looked at the top-grossing movies of 2011 and found nearly 1,900 incidents where tobacco is used, or the use is implied by a lit cigarette. That represents a rise of 7 per cent from 2010 to 2011. But looking only at G, PG or PG-13 movies, the depiction of tobacco use rose even more significantly, at 36 per cent.

Some of the other titles that showed smoking included Cowboys & Aliens, Green Hornet, Midnight in Paris and The Help .

Children who watch movies that depict smoking are more likely to pick up the habit themselves, according to a study published earlier this year. Researchers found that young people who watched the highest number of scenes in movies that showed characters smoking were the most likely to later go on to smoke.

As noted in story by Genevra Pittman in Reuters, that doesn't mean eliminating smoking is going to solve the problem of youth smoking. But it would likely play a role. Glantz said in a press release that the movie industry should develop guidelines and policies to further restrict smoking on screen.

"An R rating for movies with smoking would give film producers an incentive to keep smoking out of movies aimed at young viewers," he said.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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