Attorneys General Becerra and Peterson Lead Bipartisan Coalition in Urging Creative Community to Protect Young Viewers from Tobacco Imagery

Monday, October 5, 2020
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson today led a coalition of 43 attorneys general in urging the creative community to take action to protect young viewers from tobacco imagery in streamed movies and programs. The bipartisan coalition directed letters to five creative guilds as part of an ongoing effort to reduce youth exposure to tobacco. Last year, the coalition sent letters urging the streaming industry to limit tobacco imagery in their video content. The creative guilds’ assistance and support is critical to stopping the renormalization and glamorization of tobacco use, especially youth vaping.

“Far too often, young viewers see their favorite characters vaping or smoking on screen and are influenced to start using tobacco,” said Attorney General Becerra. “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.”

Tobacco is the number one preventable killer in the United States, with over 480,000 Americans dying from tobacco-related diseases every year. A growing body of evidence indicates that vaping can permanently damage lungs and lead to a lifetime of tobacco and nicotine use.

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 would have on children. In 2012, following a decade of studies, the Surgeon General concluded that “[t]here is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.” More recently, a study by the Truth Initiative found that children who watch episodic programs with tobacco content are significantly more likely to begin vaping than those who are not exposed to such content. 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. 

In today's 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 and to encourage streaming companies to:

  • Adopt best practices that steer young viewers away from content with tobacco imagery, such as excluding tobacco imagery in future content targeting children, with limited exceptions;
  • 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. 

Letters were 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.

Attorneys General Becerra and Peterson are joined by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, the Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia in sending the letters.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

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