UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Female youths’ perceptions of smoking in popular film Jette, Shannon


Over the past decade, there has been mounting concern about the effect of smoking in film on youth audiences, and a growing body of survey-based research has linked exposure to tobacco imagery in film with youth smoking initiation (Dalton et al., 2003; Sargent et al., 2001). Although these studies have raised awareness about the potential dangers of tobacco imagery in movies, they provide little or no insight into the meanings that adolescents give to these messages. Research exploring how young people make sense of smoking in film is limited (McCool et al., 2003; 2001; WHO, 2003), and none has been conducted in the Canadian context. Influenced by previous audience research by Wilson & Sparks (1996), and guided by Radway's (1991) conception of audiences as 'interpretive communities,' this study analyzed how groups of female adolescents (smokers and non-smokers) in a Vancouver high school decoded tobacco imagery in film. Focus group interviews with the smokers revealed that: tobacco imagery in film influences youth smoking rituals (i.e., smoking styles, smoking frequency); the cigarette remains an important symbol within youth peer groups and serves specific functions in the lives of smokers; smokers identify with tobacco brands in films; personal experiences with cigarettes are drawn upon when assessing the authenticity of a smoking scene. Interviews with the non-smokers revealed that: the majority had an 'unaware and don't care' attitude towards smoking in film (i.e., they do not notice it and are not bothered by it); stereotypical depictions of smoking in film are generally viewed as a reflection of reality. While aware that tobacco placement in film is a form of product promotion, respondents (both smokers and non-smokers) tended to focus on the cigarette's function as an artistic tool. Overall, both the smokers and non-smokers were capable of critical readings of a media text, but often did not use these capabilities when viewing tobacco imagery in film. The thesis concludes with a discussion about the ways that the research findings may be used in the design of antismoking campaigns.

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