Monday, November 07, 2005

American Legacy Foundation Exposes Its Own Extreme Hypocrisy: Criticizes Smoking in Movies While Partnering with the Chief Culprit

In a public relations effort timed to coincide with the release today of a new study which suggests that exposure to smoking in the movies is a major cause of youth smoking, the American Legacy Foundation took a swipe at smoking in the movies and emphasized the critical importance of taking efforts to confront this problem. And in its usual self-congratulatory manner, the Foundation praised itself for doing "just that."

The study, being released today in the journal Pediatrics, concludes that smoking in movies is a major cause of youth smoking, responsible for 38% of all youth smoking initiation in the United States. The conclusion is based on the results of a cross-sectional telephone survey of 6,522 adolescents ages 10-14 years old. Exposure to smoking in movies was assessed by ascertaining whether youth respondents had seen 50 random movies chosen from a list of 532 first-run movies. The association between smoking in movies and youth smoking status was then examined, controlling for a number of potential confounding variables (including parental and peer smoking).

The American Legacy Foundation press advisory stated: "This Monday (11/7/05), a study will be released in the journal Pediatrics showing a direct link between characters smoking in movies and smoking initiation among children and teens. ... Dr. James Sargent found that 38 adolescents out of every 100 who smoke did so after seeing smoking in movies. By addressing this topic, the public health community has an opportunity to reduce the number of youth who smoke in the United States. The American Legacy Foundation works everyday to do just that."

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story (and what the American Legacy Foundation fails to reveal in its press advisory) is that Legacy has forged a corporate partnership with the chief culprit of the portrayal of smoking in the movies - Time Warner - whose films have been estimated to cause 100,000 kids to start smoking each year.

According to one American Legacy Foundation grantee: "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."

In fact, a study on smoking portrayals in first-run movies between 1999 and 2003 found that:
  • 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).
In this light, I find it quite disgraceful that the American Legacy Foundation has failed to disclose in its media advisory the fact that it has honored Time Warner as its chief corporate partner (which is revealed on Legacy's web site).

But even more disgraceful is the fact that Legacy has the hypocritical gall to claim that it "works everyday to do just that" [presumably - reduce youth smoking by addressing the problem of smoking in the movies].

The truth is that every day, Legacy (in my opinion) is working to do just the opposite, by continually rewarding Time Warner as a corporate partner, therefore taking the pressure off the company to respond to this public health problem.

But it gets even worse than that. Not only has Legacy rewarded Time Warner with a corporate partnership, but it has publicly honored Time Warner as being a "leader in this important movement."

If I were forced to choose one and only one thing to do today to address the problem of smoking in movies, I would suggest that the most effective tactic that could be taken is for the American Legacy Foundation to break its partnership with Time Warner and to publicly criticize the company for bombarding kids with exposure to smoking in movies.

After all, if the problem is as bad as Legacy would have us believe, then Time Warner is directly responsible for its share (about one-fifth) of the 38% of youth smokers who initiate smoking because of watching smoking in movies (that amounts to about 95,000 kids each year).

If the American Legacy Foundation had any integrity at all, it would criticize Time Warner for contributing to 95,000 youths starting to smoke each year.

Its silence is deafening to me. And its hypocrisy is so overwhelming that it makes me ashamed to think that I am part of the same tobacco control movement as this Foundation.

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