A PSA from anti-tobacco group Truth Initiative highlights findings that link exposure to tobacco imagery on TV to higher chance of vaping by youths. USA TODAY Handout
The National Association of Attorneys General is asking several major Hollywood talent unions to help “protect young audiences from tobacco use” by limiting its exposure in streaming shows.
The letter, sent Monday, requests support from the Directors Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, Screenwriters Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
“Far too often, young viewers see their favorite characters vaping or smoking on screen and are influenced to start using tobacco,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a statement. “It is time for streaming companies and the creative guilds to do better by our children. In the midst of a respiratory pandemic, tobacco use is all the more dangerous. We need all hands on deck to protect the lives of our children and ensure a healthier America.”
“A 2020 study by Truth Initiative now shows youth and young adults who watch episodic programs with tobacco imagery via streaming, cable, and broadcast television are significantly more likely to initiate vaping than those who are not exposed to tobacco imagery on those media,” the letter states. “In fact, even those with low levels of exposure were more than twice as likely to start using e-cigarettes, and those with high exposure were over three times more likely.”
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The study, published in the scholarly journal Preventive Medicine and referenced in the third annual report on TV and smoking by public health group Truth Initiative, says young viewers with the highest exposure to TV tobacco depictions can be three times as likely to start vaping as those who don’t.
It did not find a significant connection between viewing and traditional smoking, but it suggests that may be due statistically to low smoking rates among young people, for whom vaping is their primary choice of nicotine.
Truth Initiative’s “Straight to Vape,” obtained exclusively by USA TODAY, also finds tobacco and smoking depictions in the most popular shows for young people appear to be rising since the group’s first While You Were Streaming reports in 2018 and 2019. Nearly three-quarters of shows popular with young people studied feature tobacco/smoking images.
“We ask the Guilds to use their collective influence to persuade members of the creative
community to depict tobacco imagery responsibly, while still supporting artistic freedoms,” the correspondence from the Attorneys General continues. “We also ask the Guilds to encourage streaming companies to adopt best practices that navigate youth audiences away from movies and shows with tobacco imagery.
“Among these practices, we have proposed banning tobacco imagery in all future, original youth-rated or youth-targeted content, with limited exceptions,” reads the letter. “We have also asked streaming companies to recommend and promote only tobacco-free titles for children and families. We have challenged the companies to mitigate the historic and cumulative impact of watching tobacco imagery in movies and programs by running strong anti-tobacco spots, especially before videos with smoking or vaping. In addition, we have encouraged the companies to display prominent and forceful tobacco warnings before content with tobacco imagery and to offer effective parental controls, so families may be empowered to choose smoke-free content.
“The Guilds’ assistance and support is critical to implementing these changes and stopping the renormalization and glamorization of tobacco use,” the letter continues. “We look forward to opening discussions with you about ways the creative community can protect children, while maintaining artistic integrity.”
Contributing: Bill Keveney
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