AG Derek Schmidt urges video streaming industry to protect young viewers from tobacco imagery

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From the Office of the Kansas Attorney General

TOPEKA – (August 7, 2019) – Kansas has joined a bipartisan coalition of 43 attorneys general in urging the video streaming industry to voluntarily limit tobacco use in their video content, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said today.

Schmidt, along with the 42 other state and territory attorneys general, today sent letters to 13 of the country’s largest video streaming providers urging them to take proactive steps to protect the lives of young viewers.

“Given the recent significant rise in tobacco use by young people, particularly the use of e-cigarettes, preventing initiation and use of tobacco products is of critical importance to us and the public health community, and we sincerely hope it will be addressed by the streaming industry,” the attorneys general wrote.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018.

In 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that watching movies with tobacco imagery increases the likelihood that adolescents will become smokers. In their letters, the attorneys general urge the video streaming industry to adopt the following policies to protect young viewers from the ill effects of tobacco content:

  • Eliminate or exclude tobacco imagery in all future original streamed content for young viewers, including any content rated TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, G, PG, and PG-13, and ensure that any promotional material such as previews, trailers, image galleries, and clips be tobacco-free. Content with tobacco imagery should be rated TV-MA or R and only recommended to adult viewers.
  • Only “recommend” or designate tobacco-free content for children, adolescents, families, and general audiences.
  • Improve or offer parental controls that are effective, prominent, and easy-to-use, that allow parents and guardians specifically to restrict access to all content with tobacco content, regardless of rating.
  • Mitigate the negative influence of tobacco content, from whatever source and with any rating, by streaming strong anti-smoking and/or anti-vaping public service announcements, as appropriate, before all videos with tobacco content.

In 1998, attorneys general across the nation entered into a Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with the major tobacco manufacturers that imposes significant restrictions on tobacco company marketing practices and prohibits advertising aimed at youth. This includes banning the settling tobacco companies from advertising tobacco products on TV shows, movies and other video content. Despite the advertising ban, studies by the public health organization Truth Initiative found a high rate of tobacco imagery in the content of streamed videos that are popular with young viewers. In particular, the study discovered high rates of tobacco usage in TV-Y and TV-PG shows. Further, a 2018 study found the streamed videos that are most popular with young viewers feature higher rates of tobacco content than programs shown on traditional television. A 2019 report by the Truth Initiative showed that the danger has grown in the past year. 

Smoking remains the number-one preventable killer in the United States, causing more than 480,000 deaths per year.

Copies of today’s letters, sent to Amazon, Apple, AT&T, CBS Corp., Comcast, Discovery, Disney Company, Google, LionsGate, Netflix, Sony, Viacom and Walmart, can be found at http://bit.ly/2OIapTz