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Antismoking slides in movie Theaters: A Naturalistic Evaluation

Institution: University of California, Irvine
Investigator(s): Cornelia Pechmann, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2000 (Cycle 9) Grant #: 9ST-0244 Award: $10,000
Subject Area: Public Health, Public Policy, and Economics
Award Type: Special Projects

Initial Award Abstract
There is mounting evidence that an important contributor to underage smoking is the depiction of smoking in feature films. STARS (Seeking Tobacco Alternatives with Realistic Solutions) is a Proposition 99-funded project to work with the entertainment industry to reduce the unintentional glamorization of tobacco in the movies and on television. One STARS project is to place antismoking slides in movie theaters to inoculate young people against the pro-tobacco messages that are often disseminated in movies. The rationale behind screening antismoking slides in movie theaters is the work of Cornelia Pechmann of UC Irvine. In a controlled experiment conducted in high schools, Pechmann found that smoking scenes in movies enhanced youths’ perceptions of smokers and increased their intentions to smoke. However, an appropriate antismoking message presented just prior to a movie had the effect of inoculating teenagers. In other words, youths' opinions were malleable, and showing them an antismoking advertisement before the film effectively repositioned the smoking from attractive, forbidden fruit to tainted, thereby nullifying the positive effects mentioned above.

The current project involves testing an antismoking slide in actual movie theaters to further examine the effectiveness of this approach to tobacco use prevention. The slide will be produced by the Motion Pictures Association of America, and distributed by the National Association of Theater Owners, under the supervision of the American Lung Association Sacramento Emigrant Trails who is the primary contractor of the STARS project. Pechmann, who is the PI on the project, has developed an appropriate methodology to test the slide in theaters, along with suitable survey questions, based on her earlier work. Pechmann will oversee data collection, which will be conducted by UC Irvine and UCLA graduate students and American Lung Association volunteers under the supervision of experienced and trained adults. The UCLA School of Public Health will provide assistance because they are under subcontract to evaluate the STARS Program.

The research questions to be investigated are (a) whether smoking scenes in a movie promote positive attitudes toward smoking among teenagers and (b) whether an antismoking slide presented before the movie can inoculate teenagers and nullify such effects. The study will be conducted in two Southern California movie theaters which will be showing the same smoking-filled movie. Each theater will show the movie on two screens and the antismoking slide on just one of those two screens (selected at random). The subjects will be 800 teenagers who attend the movie, 400 per theater. Half will only see the movie; the other half will see the antismoking slide as well. Half will be interviewed upon their arrival at the theater (to obtain a baseline), the other half as they depart (to measure the effects of the movie and/or slide). As an incentive for participation, free tickets to a subsequent movie will be offered. A main goal will be to measure the antismoking slide’s effectiveness before it is distributed nationwide.