State Health Commissioner Enlists Public to Help Eliminate Smoking in Movies and Save the Lives of New York Children

Ad Urges People to Write to Studio Executives

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 24, 2008) – State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today urged the public to write to the chief executive officers (CEOs) of the companies that own the six major film studios asking the CEOs to protect children's health by eliminating smoking from movies children see most. 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.

Advertisements published in tomorrow's New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Buffalo News, Albany Times Union, Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and Syracuse Post Standard include six "clip and mail" messages addressed to each of the top media CEOs for readers to sign and send.

The six short messages cite the number of tobacco impressions each studio delivered during the past nine years. The message urges each studio to eliminate smoking from its G, PG, and PG-13 films, starting immediately. There is a line for the reader's name and address. The ad contains the statement, "Smoking in movies kills in real life," and notes that nearly 20 percent of 11th graders smoke.

"It should take New Yorkers about six minutes to complete the letters," Dr. Daines said. "Your name counts, taking the time to stamp an envelope counts. And that's our message to the CEOs, too: in six minutes they can personally save 60,000 lives a year – more than are now tragically lost across the country to drunk driving, criminal violence, drug use and HIV/AIDS combined. The MPAA has repeatedly refused to R-rate tobacco, but I trust the CEOs know that when the right thing and smart thing coincide, you just do it."

The ad follows a letter Dr. Daines sent on Feb. 19 to the same CEOs asking for their immediate action to eliminate smoking from future movies with ratings of G, PG and PG-13. That letter was also published as a full-page ad in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (view the letter from Dr. Daines to media CEOs). Although an MPAA representative met with Dr. Daines last week, no media company has publicly agreed to reduce young people's exposure to smoking on screen substantially and permanently.

The American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Legacy Foundation, and the American Medical Association have endorsed the measures. Dr. Daines has received letters of support from the New York State PTA, physicians in several states, as well as members of the public.

"Frankly, this silence surprises us," Dr. Daines said. "These CEOs, whose studios deliver billions of tobacco impressions to audiences each year, have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to save tens of thousands of lives. It would take these six CEOs all of six minutes to pick up the phone and tell their studios to stop producing and distributing any more kid-rated movies with smoking after a certain date."

Leading health authorities advocate that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the studio subsidiaries' trade group, rate future tobacco imagery "R," unless the depiction is necessary to represent the smoking of an actual historical figure or portray the dire health consequences of tobacco use. Discouraging smoking in the G, PG and PG-13 movies that kids see most, and imposing an R-rating for smoking would avert some 60,000 future tobacco deaths a year, according to peer-reviewed estimates.

"Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in New York and the nation," said Commissioner Daines. "The evidence is clear that children who see smoking in movies are more likely to smoke. CEOs making and distributing these movies have a unique opportunity to reduce human suffering, easily. Why hesitate?"

Among the more than 4.5 million New York children alive today, it is estimated that 389,000 will die prematurely from a smoking caused disease.

The MPAA acknowledged last year in response to a letter from 31 state attorneys general that smoking in movies is a problem and would be considered in its ratings immediately. Researchers have since reported, however, that in the six months following the MPAA's announcement, top box office movies delivered an estimated 11 billion tobacco impressions to theater audiences in the U.S. and Canada. This is not significantly different from the number of impressions delivered in the same six-month period in the four preceding years.

The state Health Department is calling for movie studios to take 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 smoking by a 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.

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.

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