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Week of May 20, 2013

U-M doctor seeks to prevent smoking by studying comics

Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography.

To stay connected to his native land, Dr. Masahito Jimbo read a lot of Japanese manga comics when he was a high school student in the United States.

Published in weekly magazines with 10-15 comics inside, Japanese comics don’t always center on a superhero with supernatural abilities, as they often do in America.

“In Japan there are comics about superheroes, but any of the popular comics can be about someone who is working as a cook and wants to be the perfect cook, or about a musician or an everyday office worker,” says the associate professor of family medicine and urology at the Medical School.

“One of the main reasons I was able to retain my reading and thinking in Japanese when I was in the United States living with an Irish American family, was because I would read manga.”

A favorite was an international sniper who seeks justice. The hero constantly trains to be the best. But it was his other characteristic that commanded Jimbo’s attention.

“What always nagged me though is that he smoked. It made no sense to me at all. Why would he train to be the best at what he does, yet smoke? Then I noticed that many of the characters in the mangas smoked,” says Jimbo, who always has been interested in the preventative care aspect of family medicine.

Working as a professor and doctor, prevention is a primary focus for Jimbo when he talks to his students or patients, and even in his research.

Studying the manga of Japan allowed Jimbo to realize the importance of prevention of smoking for the young adolescents who read the comics on a weekly basis. Although increasing public health consciousness is attempted in Japan, there is little to no censorship of smoking scenes in the comics, he says.

“We know from previous studies that smoking in media such as movies could potentially affect young people to adopt smoking. I think one of the issues is that people reading the comics aren’t as aware of the impact,” says Jimbo, who is studying the top 10 selling mangas from 2012 to help his research.

Once he finishes his research on manga and smoking, Jimbo plans to focus on prevention techniques.

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