State Health Commissioner Speaks Out After Oscars To End Smoking In Youth-Rated Movies

New Data Supports Smoke free Movies for Kids

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 23, 2009) On the heels of last night's Oscars, the New York State Health Department today released new data showing that both smokers and nonsmokers support removing scenes showing actors smoking in movies that children attend. All dramatic, live-action, English-language feature films nominated this year for Academy Awards included smoking including nine features rated for kids.

"The more smoking kids see on screen, the more likely they are to become smokers and to die from tobacco-related diseases, later in life," said New York State Health Commissioner, Richard F. Daines, M.D. "It's clear that movies that include scenes with smoking cause kids to smoke. Tobacco costs New York State nearly $8.2 billion a year in health care costs alone," added the state's top doctor.

Commissioner Daines' urgent appeals to the motion picture industry to put the lives of our children before profits and assign an "R" rating to movies with smoking have gone unheeded. Youth-rated films delivered 12 billion tobacco impressions to U.S. moviegoers in 2008 alone, nearly twice as many as R-rated films according to A Breathe California/University of California, San Francisco in a report this month.

The state Health Department's annual 2007 Adult Tobacco Survey shows that an increasing number of New Yorkers agreed that movies rated G, PG and PG-13 should not show actors smoking. Seventy-seven percent of adult smokers agreed that actors should not smoke in movies rated G, PG and PG-13, up by 40 percent from 2003. Additionally, the survey found that 82 percent of adult non smokers agreed that actors should not smoke in movies rated G, PG and PG-13, which is up by 10 percent from 2003.

Other research also supports the conclusion that exposure to tobacco imagery on-screen causes adolescents to start smoking. Steps to reduce children's on-screen- exposure-particularly an R-rating would effectively make youth-rated movies smokefree and protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people. Given the National Cancer Institute's August 2008 finding that on-screen smoking causes adolescents to become smokers, tobacco imagery clearly meets the movie industry's own standard for an "R" rating.

Commissioner Daines stressed that the U.S. film industry should take four steps that have been widely endorsed by leading public health agencies, such as the American Academy of Pediatricians. The steps are:

  • Rate new movies with smoking "R."
  • Certify that the production received nothing of value in exchange for using or displaying tobacco.
  • Require strong anti-smoking ads before movies with tobacco imagery.
  • Stop identifying tobacco brands in movies.

"These are simple solutions that do not require government action or affect creative choices, and together, they will avert tobacco addiction and disease," said Dr. Daines.

"Even parents who smoke don't want their kids to be exposed to smoking in movies," said Jeffrey G. Willett, Ph.D., director of the state's Tobacco Control Program. "The danger is grave enough that the American Academy of Pediatricians has gone on record that on-screen tobacco is an enormous risk to our kids."

The State Health Department, along with other public health organizations and agencies across the nation and the world plan to continue public education efforts and policy advocacy programs addressing the parent companies that own major motion picture studios until there is industry-wide adoption of policies that substantially and permanently reduce adolescent exposure to on-screen tobacco imagery.

For more information on smoke-free movies, visit www.smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu. For more information about the state Health Department tobacco survey, email the department's Bureau of Chronic Disease Epidemiology at tcp@health.state.ny.us and include "StatShot"in the subject line.