TOPEKA – (October 5, 2020) – The entertainment industry should reduce youth exposure to tobacco imagery in video content, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said today. 

Schmidt joined 42 other state and territory attorneys general in sending letters to five guilds of the creative community, urging the streaming industry to limit tobacco imagery in their video content. The creative guilds’ assistance is a critical component in an overall strategy to prevent the renormalization and glamorization of tobacco use, as well as youth vaping.

“In the race to launch new platforms, provide more content, and capture audiences, many streaming companies failed to consider the impact that easy access to movies and programs with tobacco imagery has upon children,” Schmidt and the other attorneys general wrote today. “The MPA ratings system and TV Parental Guidelines, that were designed to shield youth from mature content in theaters and on broadcast television, provide little protection in the world of VOD streaming.”

In 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that watching movies with tobacco imagery increases the likelihood that adolescents will become smokers. Smoking remains the number one preventable killer in the United States, causing more than 480,000 deaths per year.

A growing body of evidence finds vaping products can permanently damage lungs and lead to a lifetime of tobacco and nicotine use. According to the 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual youth tobacco survey, 19.6% of high school students and 4.7% of middle school students reported current use of e-cigarettes. Of those, 22.5% of high school users and 9.4% of middle school users reported daily use.

In their letters, the bipartisan coalition urges Hollywood’s creative guilds to use their collective influence to persuade members of the creative community to depict tobacco imagery more responsibly, while still supporting artistic freedoms, and to encourage streaming companies to:

  • Adopt best practices that steer young viewers away from content with tobacco imagery, including excluding tobacco imagery in future content targeting children;
  • Only recommend and promote tobacco-free titles for children and families;  
  • Mitigate the historic and cumulative impact of watching tobacco imagery by running strong anti-tobacco spots, especially before content with smoking or vaping;
  • Display prominent and forceful tobacco warnings before content with tobacco imagery; and
  • Offer effective parental controls, so families may be empowered to choose smoke-free content. 

In August 2019, Schmidt and 42 other state and territorial attorneys general called on the video on demand streaming companies to take similar efforts to reduce youth exposure to tobacco imagery in movies and programs. Today’s letters build on that ongoing effort.

In 1998, Kansas joined attorneys general across the nation in entering into a Master Settlement Agreement with the major tobacco manufacturers that imposes significant restrictions on tobacco company marketing practices and prohibits advertising aimed at youth. This includes banning the settling tobacco companies from advertising tobacco products on TV shows, movies and other video content. Despite the advertising ban, studies by the public health organization Truth Initiative found a high rate of tobacco imagery in the content of streamed videos that are popular with young viewers. In particular, the study discovered high rates of tobacco usage in TV-Y and TV-PG shows.

Copies of the letters sent to 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 can be found at https://bit.ly/3nnR33E.

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