Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Ultimate in Hypocrisy: Time Warner Corporate Partner Bemoans Smoking in Time Warner Movies

In a press release issued today, the American Legacy Foundation bewailed the increasing exposure of youth to smoking in movies, stating that the findings of a new Legacy report also released today should be a wake-up call to public health leaders to take action to get smoking out of movies popular among youths.

The research, conducted by the American Legacy Foundation and Dartmouth Medical School, showed that despite a significant overall decline in smoking in movies during the period 1996-2004, there was no such decline in youth-rated movies.

The press release cites previous Legacy and Dartmouth research which "indicated that 38 percent of youth smoking initiation can be directly traced to exposure to smoking in movies."

According to the press release: "Smoking in the movies continues to prompt American youth to start smoking, public health experts said today at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health, taking place in Washington, D.C. this week. Experts from the American Legacy Foundation®, a national public health foundation devoted to prevention and cessation of tobacco use, and Dartmouth Medical School today released a new report finding that American youth continue to be exposed to smoking images in youth-rated films. This information comes on the heels of the July 7th announcement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which cited information from a previous study indicating that after decades of decline, smoking in the movies increased rapidly in the early 1990s and -- by the year 2002 -- was back to levels last seen in 1950.

'This news is a wake-up call to public health officials and other leaders,' said American Legacy Foundation® President and CEO, Dr. Cheryl Healton. 'We have seen a downward 'ratings creep,' in which studios are shifting depictions of smoking into teen-rated films, and research continues to prove the link between young people seeing smoking in movies and starting to smoke.'"

The Rest of the Story

This is the definition of hypocrisy.

The rest of the story is that the American Legacy Foundation has forged a corporate partnership with the very company that is most responsible for the delivery of smoking portrayals in youth-rated movies.

The real "wake-up" call here should be to the American Legacy Foundation Board of Directors. They need to wake up and realize that by partnering with the chief culprit of what they claim is a problem that causes 38% of youth smoking, they are themselves an accomplice to the problem. It is highly hypocritical for Legacy to be giving others advice on what needs to be done about the problem, when their actions are enabling Time Warner to avoid having to deal with this problem and yet still be called a "leader" in the national tobacco control movement.

If you can expose millions of kids to smoking in youth-rated movies and still be publicly hailed as a "leader" in the anti-smoking movement, why would you bother changing your ways? Why would you feel a need to do so or feel any pressure whatsoever? You're already a "leader" in the anti-smoking movement. It's not going to get any better than that in terms of your public image.

That Legacy continues to pound away at the movie studios at the same time as it partners with the largest of them (in terms of the proportion of smoking portrayals) suggests to me that Legacy is not sincerely concerned about the problem of youth smoking. If they were sincerely concerned, would they not demand that Warner Brothers make changes in its depiction of smoking in its movies or else rescind the corporate partnership?

It certainly has the appearance that Legacy is all too willing to act as an accomplice to the problem in order to obtain financial gain for its programs. Time Warner is offering Legacy something of value - a platform for its messages - in return for Legacy's silence about the specific role that Time Warner is playing and in return, apparently, for Legacy's unwillingness to publicly blast Time Warner and demand changes from that company specifically.

If Legacy had any integrity at all, I think it would rescind the Time Warner partnership. Certainly, it wouldn't call Time Warner a leader in the tobacco control movement.

It's unconscionable to me that a supposedly anti-smoking group would say something like that out of one side of their mouth, while out of the other side complaining about how smoking depictions in movies are responsible for nearly half of all smoking initiation in this country. How can Time Warner possibly be a leader in the anti-smoking movement if it is largely responsible for something that is causing 38% of youth smoking?

This is the kind of thing that, quite frankly, makes it difficult for me to feel a part of this movement. While I can comprehend different interpretations of the science related to the causes of youth smoking and the potential role of exposure to smoking in movies and I can comprehend different viewpoints about the most effective and appropriate ways to address youth exposure to smoking portrayals, I cannot comprehend an organization that lacks the integrity to simply take a position and act in a way that is consistent with that position.

Make up your damn mind. If movies are really responsible for nearly one out of every two kids who start to smoke, then corporations that depict smoking in movies are corporate killers. They are largely responsible for what is arguably the greatest public health problem of our time. There is simply no excuse for a public health organization, much less a tobacco control organization, to partner with such a corporate killer. And even less of an excuse to call that corporate killer a leader in the tobacco control movement.

If movies are not responsible for a huge proportion of youth smoking, then fine - go ahead and forge your partnership and take your gains from having a platform for your messages. But stop doing a song and dance every few weeks about how smoking in movies is the worst public health problem of our time.

The truth be told, I think that the problem of smoking in movies has been greatly exaggerated and I think the conclusion that seeing movies with people smoking is responsible for anywhere near 38% of kids starting to smoke is premature, invalid, inadequately substantiated and overblown.

But at this point, I don't really care. I just want the organizations in my movement to have some integrity. State that seeing smoking in movies causes 80% of smoking initiation if you want to. Just don't make that claim and then say that the companies producing those movies are the leaders of the anti-smoking movement.

Is a little integrity too much to ask for in the tobacco control movement nowadays?

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