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Attorney General Lockyer Urges Motion Picture Industry to Reduce Smoking in Movies
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced he and 24 other state Attorneys General have sent a letter to Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), calling for reduced smoking in movies.
"This important appeal asks the motion picture industry to more positively use the influence it wields over the choices our young people make," said Lockyer. "Reducing the depiction of smoking in movies will require bold action. But we believe the industry is up to the task because it shares our goal of protecting the health of our children."
Citing a recent Dartmouth University study that found reduced prevalence of cigarette smoking in movies could drastically decrease the initiation of smoking in youth, the letter states the motion picture industry "stands in a uniquely powerful position to bring about a profoundly beneficial impact on the health and well-being of millions of Americans."
The letter urges Valenti to "exercise your exemplary leadership to effect potentially far-reaching benefits for public health." It adds, "We are hopeful you will use your best efforts again here to rally the industry from being a source of the problem to being recognized as a critically important force in solving the nation's deadly problem of youth smoking."
In June, a research team from the Dartmouth Medical School published what is being called the broadest research to date showing that exposure to smoking in movies has a significant impact on youth initiation of smoking. The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, found that children ages 10-14 who watched the highest amount of smoking in movies were nearly three times more likely to start smoking than those children who observed the least amount of smoking in movies.
While recognizing the need for further study, the researchers concluded: "The effect of exposure to movie smoking is important, both because the effect on smoking initiation is moderately strong and because the exposure is almost universal. Based on the lists of 50 randomly selected movies, only zero to two percent participants were unexposed to movie smoking. If the link between exposure to smoking in movies and smoking initiation proves to be causal, our data suggest that eliminating adolescents' exposure to movie smoking could reduce smoking initiation by half."
Lockyer on June 11, 2003, sent a letter to Valenti and major studio heads urging them to help address this critical public health problem. To date, Lockyer has not received a response from either Valenti or the studios.
In 1998, the National Association of Attorneys General passed a resolution asking actors and actresses and the motion picture industry to take steps to reduce use of tobacco by children under 18. The resolution, citing tobacco-related illnesses and deaths caused by underage smoking, urged members of the motion picture industry to voluntarily review the use of cigars and cigarettes in film to eliminate or reduce use of tobacco and tobacco products. Additionally, the resolution asked the industry to consider establishing and maintaining public education programs and other activities specifically designed to discourage children from using tobacco.
While smoking rates have declined in recent years, teens continue to smoke at an unacceptable rate. Almost 90 percent of current adult smokers began as teens, 28.5 percent of all high school students smoke, and an estimated 2,000 minors become new smokers every day, according to studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
In 1999, Lockyer established a full-time Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section to enforce California laws regarding the sale and marketing of tobacco products. The section also enforces the national Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached with tobacco companies in November 1998. In fighting youth smoking, Lockyer has sued out-of-state retailers who sell to minors over the Internet. In addition, he and other state Attorneys General have reached voluntary agreements that will cut minors' access to tobacco at Walgreens, and gas stations and stores operating under the Exxon, Mobil, BP, Amoco and ARCO brand names.
Californians who suspect violations of state tobacco laws or the MSA can file complaints by calling 916-565-6486 at any time, or by writing to the Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550. Additional information is available on the Attorney General's web site at http://www.ag.ca.gov/tobacco/.
Also signing the letter to Valenti were Attorneys General of the following jurisdictions: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, N. Mariana Islands, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.