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(LOS ANGELES) – California Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced entertainment industry executives are willing to work cooperatively to address youth health concerns associated with the depiction and glamorization of smoking in movies, following a meeting in Los Angeles with industry representatives and state Attorneys General.
"I have great respect for the artistic rights and freedoms afforded by the First Amendment," said Lockyer. "But youth smoking ranks as a major public health problem, and we all need to pitch in to solve it. I'm pleased that movie directors and motion picture industry officials are willing to explore ways they can help keep our kids from starting down a deadly road."
Attorneys General met with members of the Directors Guild of America's Social Responsibility Task Force, the President of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, and production executives of the seven major studios. A representative of Lockyer's office was joined in the meetings by the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Maryland, Vermont and Utah, and a representative of the Maine Attorney General's Office.
The talks aimed to provide movie industry representatives information about the potential consequences for children's health associated with the gratuitous depiction and glamorization of smoking in movies. Under the historic 1998 national Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), tobacco companies cannot pay to have their products appear in film. However, recent studies have indicated the depiction of smoking in movies has increased since 1998. Additionally, brand names continue to appear in films and television.
An August 26, 2003 letter signed by 28 Attorneys General and sent to Valenti cited a Dartmouth Medical School study that found reduced prevalence of cigarette smoking in movies could drastically decrease the initiation of smoking by youth. The study, published in June 2003 and funded by the National Cancer Institute, was conducted by Dr. Madeline Dalton and a team of researchers. Dr. Dalton presented her findings at today's meetings at the request of the Attorneys General and Valenti.
The study found that the children, ages 10-14, who watched the highest amount of smoking in movies were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to start smoking than those children who watched the least amount of smoking in movies. The study also noted that exposure to movie smoking is "almost universal" among adolescents.
While recognizing the need for further study, the Dartmouth researchers said their "data suggests that eliminating adolescents' exposure to movie smoking could reduce smoking by half."
Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran said, "We have made significant progress today in educating directors and studio production executives about the significant public health risks inherent in youth smoking from exposure to depictions of smoking in movies. Today's historic event was the first step in what I hope will be a continuing and important dialogue to prevent the deadly problem of youth smoking."
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, "This very high level meeting is a significant step toward reducing tobacco use on the big screen. Our discussions today with leading directors and studio executives indicate to me that they get it. Heavy-handed government restrictions or regulations should be avoided. Today's constructive conversation should help lead us to answers. I hope that Hollywood will become one of the good guys in fighting kids' smoking."
Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said, "These meetings today were a good first step. The directors and the production personnel from the studios seemed surprised to hear how many Americans die each year from tobacco-related illnesses – more than murders, motor vehicle fatalities, drug overdoses and the like. They also seemed surprised by the results of the Dartmouth College Study that smoking in movies plays such a huge part in causing so many young Americans to begin to smoke. This was just the beginning of a dialogue and we hope to reduce the incidence of smoking in movies and to come out with an agreement whereby parents will know when smoking is depicted in a favorable light in movies."
In 1999, Lockyer established a full-time Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section to enforce California laws regarding the sale and marketing of tobacco products. The section also enforces the MSA, reached with tobacco companies in November 1998.
Californians who suspect violations of state tobacco laws or the MSA can file complaints by calling 916-565-6486 at any time, or by writing to the Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550. Additional information is available on the Attorney General's web site at http://www.ag.ca.gov/tobacco/.