February 19, 2008
Even those who are not fans of Hannah Montana have likely
heard of Miley Cyrus. With tweens and teens making her new
movie a multi-million dollar success, many are concerned
that her actions will speak to her audience and set a
"In a blog item posted Monday [February 11, 2008], Consumer
Reports magazine says 15-year-old superstar Miley Cyrus,
who plays Hannah Montana on television, is seen in her new
movie riding without a seat belt in the back seat of a
Range Rover. So is her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, the
Yonkers-based magazine says. ... The magazine says 65
percent of the 13- to 15-year-olds killed in auto accidents
in 2006 were not wearing seat belts."
Almost two thirds of those in their early teens who died in
car accidents were not wearing their seat belts. While many
teens don't think it could ever happen to them, more people
in this age range die in vehicle crashes than in any other
"* Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for
15 to 20 year olds in the United States.
* In 2001, 5,341 teens were killed in passenger vehicles
involved in motor vehicle crashes. Two thirds of those
killed were not buckled up. ...
* Research has shown that lap/shoulder belts, when used
properly, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat
passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of
moderate to critical injury by 50 percent. For light truck
occupants, safety belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by
60 percent and moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent."
It is well accepted that seat belts save lives. When a well
respected teen celebrity places herself in a position to
model behavior that ignores this life-saving device, many
fear that her fans will follow her example.
While some see these fears as an unfounded over-reaction,
others know that it can serve as an advertisement for
unsafe behavior. Placing products in movies and TV shows
has long been shown as a good way to advertise desirable
behavior and influence the decisions of tweens and teens.
One well documented example of this is in the tobacco
"The research reveals that children between the age of 10
and 14 who watched the highest amount of smoking in movies
were nearly three times more likely to start smoking than
those children who watched the least amount of smoking in
movies. 'The data suggests that eliminating smoking in
movies could reduce the number of young people starting
smoking by half,' says [Utah Attorney General Mark
Shurtleff]. ... 'I'm hoping the movie makers will use their
influence to let young people know that smoking isn't cool,
but that smoking kills," says [Assistant Attorney General
It is the power of suggestion, and companies know it works
well enough to pay millions of dollars to have their
products seen in movies.
"The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement prohibited tobacco
companies from advertising their product in markets that
target people younger than 18 years of age. However, this
ban has not sufficiently accomplished its intended goal of
curtailing tobacco exposure in children. Another study
found that 52 percent of teens with non-smoking parents
started smoking because of exposure to smoking in movies."
The current buzz about a bad example being set in the
movies has Miley Cyrus and her father riding without their
seat belts. For years, various health organizations and
prominent medical professionals have argued that movies
should not be modeling tobacco use (as well as other
unhealthy behaviors) for teens.
Additionally, movies have had a reputation for modeling a
variety of negative behaviors. While evidence is there to
support that seat belts save lives, and cigarettes kill,
the entertainment industry is not showing what happens when
someone is in a car accident without a seat belt or what's
really in those cigarettes...
"Did you know that cigarette smoke contains over 4,000
chemicals, many of which are poisonous? If you smoke, these
are just some of the substances you're putting into your
- Tar... is the main cause of lung and throat cancers in
- Cyanide is used to make rat poison.
- Formaldehyde is used to preserve dead bodies. Yuck!
- Benzene is found in gasoline.
* Acetone is the main ingredient in nail polish remover.
* Ammonia is found in many disinfectants that you use to
clean your house...
* Nicotine is the drug in cigarette smoke that makes it
hard to quit smoking. Nicotine is at least as addictive as
heroin. It is also a deadly poison that was once used as an
Questions of the Week:
In what ways should the movie industry be expected to play
a role in the promotion behaviors that lead to a safer and
healthier lifestyle? In what ways is expecting them to do
this unrealistic and/or inappropriate? Knowing that the
characters in movies are not always making the healthiest
or most responsible choices--and that companies are using
product placement as advertising--what should you and your
peers know about these tactics before going to see another
feature film? What would be the best way to reach your
peers with the information needed to view movies with a
more discriminating eye?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum