Tuesday, June 07, 2005

American Legacy Foundation Issues Recommendations to Reduce Youth Exposure to Smoking in the Movies

The American Legacy Foundation has released a policy report that outlines a number of strategies to reduce the impact of smoking in movies on youth (see: Policy Report 03, May 2005. Public Opinion on Strategies to Reduce Youth Exposure to Smoking in the Movies). The report bemoans the high exposure of youths to exposure to smoking in movies; the concern is that there is evidence that such exposure is a major cause of smoking initiation: "A longitudinal study found that 50% of youth smoking initiation can be traced to exposure to smoking in movies."

According to the Legacy report: "Depictions of smoking are extremely prevalent in American movies. A study of first-run movies released in the United States from 1999 to 2003 found that 80% of all films depicted smoking."

The report lists four recommendations, which are: (1) Rate new smoking movies "R"; (2) Certify no pay offs in exchange for the portrayal of smoking; (3) Require strong antismoking ads to run before such movies; and (4) Stop identifying tobacco brands.

The Rest of the Story

Legacy has failed to reveal a number of very important findings from the study it cites that found that 80% of all films depicted smoking:
  • The company responsible for the most movies with smoking during the study period was Time Warner (responsible for 20% of all movies with smoking in the study).
  • The company responsible for the most smoking depictions was Time Warner (responsible for 21% of all smoking depictions in the study).
  • The leading company in terms of share of actual smoking depictions in each type of movie (G/PG, PG-13, and R) was Time Warner (responsible for a whopping 40% of smoking impressions in kiddie movies [G/PG] and about 25% of impressions in PG-13 and R movies).
  • "Time Warner is ... unusual in that 60% (3/5) of its 2003 movies rated PG included smoking; only 23% (3/13) of other studios’ PG releases showed smoking in 2003."
Legacy also fails to reveal that based on the above findings:
  • "390,000 kids start smoking every year because of smoking in the movies, enough to replace almost every smoker that the tobacco industry kills each year. Time Warner alone delivered 100,000 kids to the tobacco industry."
But the clincher is an omission from the report that is revealed on Legacy's own web site, where it discloses that:
  • the lead corporate partner of the American Legacy Foundation is Time Warner.
The Legacy Foundation's hypocrisy is almost too much to believe. And perhaps worse is their apparent insincerity - in the sense that they are publicly blasting the problem of smoking in the movies in one communication and in another one, they are publicly partnering with the leading culprit of youth exposure to smoking in the movies and calling that company a "leader" in the tobacco control movement.

You can't have it both ways and carry any credibility as a responsible public health organization. You can't condemn what Time Warner is doing and then in the same breath partner with them and expect to be taken seriously as a national anti-smoking organization.

I think a fifth recommendation should be added to Legacy's list: Do not partner with, praise, and honor as leaders in the tobacco control movement companies that are responsible for this problem!

You will notice that on Legacy's web site, a description of some of the accomplishments of many of their other corporate partners is provided, but no accomplishments are listed for Time Warner. May I suggest a few to be added to the site:
  • Industry leader in total tobacco incidents in smoking movies.
  • Industry leader in tobacco incidents in G/PG/PG-13 movies.
  • Industry leader in studio share of all G/PG/PG-13 smoking incidents.
  • Industry leader in tobacco impressions from R-rated films.
  • Industry leader in studio shares of R-rated impressions.
  • Industry leader in tobacco impressions delivered to ages 6-17.
  • Industry leader in tobacco impressions from PG-13 films.
  • Industry leader in studio shares of PG-13 impressions.
  • Industry leader in tobacco impressions from G/PG films.
  • Industry leader in share of impressions from G/PG films.
I think anything less than that cannot be viewed as completely forthright, earnest, frank, open, and sincere.

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