State Health Commissioner Urges Film Executives to Eliminate Smoking in Youth-Rated Movies

New Policies Would Save Thousands of Lives

ALBANY, NY (Feb. 19, 2008) — State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today called on the companies that own movie studios to eliminate smoking from movies with ratings of G, PG and PG-13 to help save lives. The majority of smokers begin smoking during adolescence, and the strongest influence contributing to children beginning to smoke is smoking and tobacco images in movies.

Noting that the majority of smokers begin smoking during adolescence, Commissioner Daines said two major studies have demonstrated that smoking and tobacco images in movies provide the single strongest influence contributing to youth smoking.

"The science clearly shows that exposure to smoking in movies is the single most powerful pro-tobacco influence on children, accounting for the recruitment of half of new adolescent smokers," Dr. Daines said. "The good news is that reducing children's exposure to smoking on-screen also reduces smoking initiation."

In a letter earlier this month, Dr. Daines urged the chief executive officers of six major motion picture studios, including The Disney Company, the News Corporation, SONY Corporation, Time Warner, General Electric, and Viacom, and to the president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to act now to reduce children's exposure to smoking on-screen.

Dr. Daines' letter was published as a full-page ad in today's editions of The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

"Motion picture companies have an obligation to stop promoting a toxic product in movies rated for youth," said Ursula Bauer, director of the state's tobacco control program. "The more on-screen smoking images children see, the more likely they are to become smokers. Research has shown there is a dose-response relationship between exposure to smoking in movies and youth initiation."

Cigarette use is the leading preventable cause of death in New York and in the United States. Of the more than 4.5 million New York children alive today, there will be 389,000 smoking- related deaths.

In May 2007, the MPAA announced that smoking would be considered when movie ratings are determined. However, a recent study from the University of California-San Francisco found no difference in tobacco exposure from youth-rated films before and after the new policy was put in place.

"The Motion Picture Association of America has arbitrarily applied its tobacco ratings policy. The tragic consequence of this failed policy is that 200,000 U.S. adolescents each year are addicted to tobacco," Commissioner Daines said. "Although some companies have policies to address smoking in movies, research shows that these policies are having no effect on the number of smoking images that are still in films."

The American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Legacy Foundation, and the American Medical Association, have endorsed the following steps to dramatically improve the health of New York children:

  • Rate new smoking movies "R," unless tobacco use in the film clearly reflects its dangers and consequences or is necessary to represent the smoking of a real historical figure.
  • Certify no pay-offs by stating in the films' closing credits that no production member received anything of value from anyone in exchange for tobacco depictions.
  • Require proven, effective anti-smoking ads to run before any film with tobacco presence, regardless of its MPAA rating.
  • Stop identifying tobacco brands and eliminate brand imagery from the background of any movie scene.

The studies demonstrating an association between smoking in movies and the initiation of smoking by youth are "Effect of viewing smoking in movies on adolescent smoking initiation: a cohort study," published online in The Lancet, June 10, 2003; and "Longitudinal Study of Viewing Smoking in Movies and Initiation of Smoking by Children," published in Pediatrics, Vol. 121 No. 1, January 2008.

The State Health Department is spending $800,000 on this campaign, which will include ads in Variety, the entertainment newspaper; Internet sites featuring the Oscar nominations; and outdoor sites in New York City – taxicab tops, bus placards and sides of vending carts – where these executives and their employees will see them.

For a file of the print ad, please visit www.nyhealth.gov. For more information on the smoke-free movies campaign, visit http://www.smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu.