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CHICAGO (Reuters) - White U.S. teenagers who watch a lot of R-rated movies or have unsupervised access to TV shows appear more likely than similar black youths to start smoking cigarettes, a study found on Monday.
Researchers found that white adolescents with the most exposure to R-rated movies were nearly seven times more likely to have started smoking compared to those with less exposure.
Even after taking into account such things as having a friend who smoked, lack of parental guidance or doing poorly in school, those who watched more R-rated movies were still three times more likely to start smoking, the study found. In theaters, anyone age 16 or younger who attends an R-rated movie must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.
White adolescents allowed unsupervised television viewing were also more likely to start smoking, the study said.
But among black adolescents in the study there was no similar impact for restricted movies or unfettered TV viewing.
While the reason for the racial difference is not known, one factor could be that viewers prefer characters "who are similar to themselves in sex, age or race," something that begins in childhood, said the report, which was published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
"Because the majority of contemporary screen actors are white, it follows that experiencing identification and subsequent involvement in the narratives of popular movies and television programs is less likely among black adolescents than among white," the study concluded.
The study said today's movies depict actors smoking as often as in the 1950s.
It noted that previous studies had found more than three-fourths of youngsters of all races between ages of 10 and 14 said they watched R-rated movies at home without parental permission.
Previous research has also tied the level of exposure to R-rated fare and TV in general and teens' starting to smoke, but did not identify the racial difference.
The new report was based on interviews with 735 children age 12 to 14, about equally divided between black and white. They were asked which of 93 popular films shown in theaters from 2001 to 2002 they had seen, how often they watched TV and whether their parents had rules about what they could watch.