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Health Educ Res. 2003 Oct;18(5):554-67.

Filthy or fashionable? Young people's perceptions of smoking in the media.

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  • 1School of Population Health, University of Western Australia, Perth 6009, Australia.


Research has shown that the media over-estimates smoking rates and often associates smoking with favorable attributes or situations. Given that the media plays a large role in influencing youth culture, portrayal of smoking in the media is of concern. In order to explore young people's perceptions of smoking imagery in the media, 16 focus groups were conducted with 117 school students. Participants were asked to rate smoking images selected from audio-visual and print media, and to discuss their perceptions of these images. The results showed that young people perceived smoking in these media selections to be normal and acceptable. They identified with the stress-relieving and social aspects of smoking, despite being well aware of the harmful health effects. Its acceptability as part of a 'cool' image was also noted. Positive images of smoking in the media have the potential to down-play the serious health consequences of smoking by portraying it in a way that young people interpret as a normal part of everyday life. They may also encourage a more neutral or tolerant attitude towards smoking among young people and therefore act to counteract other health promotion efforts to reduce teenage smoking.

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