Commissioner Daines Calls for Smoke-Free Movies for Children

Joins Youth Advocates in Urging Film Studios to Remove Smoking Images from Youth-Rated Movies

New York, NY (June 1, 2009) – State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D, today joined prominent tobacco-control advocates and more than 200 high school students from around the state to demand that the six companies that own the major motion picture studios eliminate smoking and other tobacco imagery from youth-rated movies. The students are members of Reality Check, an anti-smoking movement sponsored by the New York State Department of Health.

Studies have linked exposure to on-screen smoking with up to half of all youth smoking initiation, including findings by the National Cancer Institute of a causal relationship between exposure to depictions of smoking in movies and young people starting smoking.

Commissioner Daines noted that the major motion picture studios owned by six companies – SONY, Time Warner, Viacom, News Corp., General Electric, and Disney – have delivered 275 billion "toxic tobacco impressions" to movie viewers over the last 10 years. Unless the movie studios adopt policy changes, he said an estimated 190,000 New Yorkers who are children today will eventually die of smoking-related illnesses because of the powerful effects of smoking imagery in films.

"Unlike most major public health threats, there is an easy, low-cost solution to the problem of smoking in movies," said Dr. Daines. "The film industry can immediately reduce youth exposure to smoking imagery by assigning all future movies with smoking depictions an R rating. This simple step, which has been widely endorsed by leading public health organizations, will help save hundreds of thousands of lives."

Dr. Daines urged the major motion picture studios to adopt three other potentially life-saving policies:

  • Certify they received no pay-offs for using or displaying tobacco in their movies;
  • Precede any movie depicting smoking with strong anti-smoking ads; and,
  • Cease identification of tobacco brands in movies.

Dr. Daines was joined at Monday's event at Merchant's Gate in Central Park by Barbara Zolty, Policy Officer of the Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO); Dr. Stanton Glantz, Professor of Medicine at the University of California and Director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco; and Christine Morrison, Senior Tobacco Counsel in the New York Attorney General's Office.

"Because of the enormous threat to the health of our youth, the State Health Department is obliged to inform the public about the hazards of smoking in movies," said Dr. Daines. "Adopting policy solutions that reduce youth initiation of tobacco use will cost media companies almost nothing – especially when compared with the $8.17 billion that tobacco costs New York State each year in medical care."

Dr. Daines said he has personally reached out to the CEOs of the six companies that own the major motion picture studios in a good-faith effort to address this public health issue, but the CEOs have not responded directly to his request for a meeting.

More information about the impact of smoking in movies is available at: http://www.smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu/.