Is quitting smoking a New Year's resolution for you? Then you and President-elect Barack Obama are on common ground.
Smoking is a family issue. Certainly, some people think of the family influence - children who grow up around smokers are at risk for smoking themselves - but smoking means "family issue" to me because it's such a big risk factor in pregnancy.
Women who smoke are about 30 percent more likely to experience infertility than other women, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Then, if smoking women become pregnant, they are twice as likely to have problems maintaining their pregnancies in the third trimester. This is why their babies have 30 percent higher odds of being born prematurely.
Low-birthweight babies, of course, are more susceptible to illness or death, including the dreaded Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Thankfully, most women get the message that smoking and pregnancy don't mix. About 13 percent of pregnant women smoked during their pregnancies in 2006, according to the federal birth data report released Jan. 7.
Frankly, my question is why does anyone still smoke today? Don't people have enough trouble keeping their teeth, breath and lungs fresh and clean without showering them with toxic soot every day?
Here's a partial answer, fresh from the researchers. When attractive movie characters smoke, youth find them - and smoking - appealing. And smoking is a habit acquired in youth.
The study by German researchers at the Institute for Therapy and Health Research aimed to test the potency of even brief smoking depictions in film.
The researchers showed roughly 500 youths, ages 10 to 18, a 42-second movie trailer in which an attractive female character smoked briefly - three seconds. Another 500 saw a similar trailer, except no one smoked.
Realistically, such a tiny smoking scene shouldn't have affected anyone, researchers reasoned. But it did - teens who already had smoked cigarettes were much more likely than nonsmokers to find the smoking female character attractive.
"When depicted in movies, smoking sends a powerful and enticing message to the adolescent viewer," the researchers concluded in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. This is because cigarette-smoking characters are perceived as being rebellious, sexy and tough - all attractive messages for teens.
There's a lot of smoking in movies, said a 2006 study in Pediatrics by researchers at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire.
They looked at 534 recent popular movies and found that 74 percent contained smoking scenes. They then calculated the number of smoking scenes and how many teens might have seen them.
"Overall, these movies delivered 13.9 billion gross smoking impressions, an average of 665 to each U.S. adolescent, aged 10 to 14 years," the researchers said.
Almost all the big puffers were male, with Brad Pitt, Nicolas Cage, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro and Mel Gibson topping the list.
Recommendations range from slapping an "R" rating on movies with smoking scenes (to restrict viewing by kids) to encouraging actors to join Ben Affleck, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Will Ferrell in skipping the cigs, at least on camera.
Meanwhile, for smokers who are fighting to quit today, know the Obamas feel your pain.
"That was one of my prerequisites for entering into this race ... that he couldn't be a smoking president," Michelle Obama said in a February 2007 "60 Minutes" interview. "He's not going to smoke," she said confidently, "because ... he'll have to hear too much from me."
"It's like a recovering alcoholic," Mr. Obama agreed. "One day at a time. ... One Nicorette stick of gum at a time."
The couple laughed on camera, but Mrs. Obama couldn't resist a final comment.
"Please America, watch," she said, glancing into the camera. "Keep an eye on him. And call me if you see him smoking."
&8226; Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.