So what made you start smoking?

At this point if you aren't willing to admit that smoking causes cancer, you either have your hands on an as-yet-not-deposited check from a tobacco company or you're wearing a tinfoil hat. It's not too surprising that people can't quit smoking, considering that cigarettes are addictive, in addition to being expensive, over-taxed death sticks. What is a little surprising is that new people are still starting to smoke. Why?

Two new scientific papers focus on the causes of tobacco use among British and American populations. One claims that movies promote tobacco use, while another blames the government.

Two recent studies blame two different things. A report in PLoS Medicine points the finger at companies themselves, in conjunction with governments. It claims that British American Tobacco influenced public health policies to focus on harm reduction and prevention of child smoking, rather than encouraging everyone to stop smoking altogether. (Although it's hardly surprising that they wouldn't collaborate in the outright demise of their industry.) The overall message was to let adults smoke as safely as possible, and keep kids from smoking. Maybe that message wasn't strong enough?

In another article in PLoS Medicine, researchers actually argue that the government is encouraging young people to smoke via film subsidies. Many films partially subsidized by British and American governments have smoking imagery in them. Overall, films with tobacco imagery received twice the money that anti-smoking PSAs did.

Martin Dockrell, Director of Research at Action on Smoking and Health, said of the research:

"The research is clear: the more a young person sees smoking in films the more likely they are to try smoking themselves. The effect is probably strongest in countries like the UK where conventional tobacco advertising has been stopped. Earlier this year the Government promised to look at what more could be done to tackle the role of TV and films in stimulating smoking among children. At the moment we have a film funding system that makes the problem worse, by investing millions in films made for young people that have the effect of encouraging them to smoke."

But do PSAs even work? Yet another study in the Journal of Media Psychology showed that anti-smoking PSAs with too much shock imagery were likely to be met with a strong defensive response. People shown an image meant to provoke disgust or fear remembered the message better. But if they were shown both, they had a defensive response that actually suppressed the message of the commercials.

According to the World Health Organization, the rates of smoking have dropped since 1960, as have the overall number of packs a day smoked by each smoker. But roughly 25 percent of people sixteen and over in the US and the UK smoke. Something is still making people pick up that first pack.

Image: Kuzma via Shutterstock