On October 5, 2020, forty-three Attorneys General asked Hollywood's producers, directors, writers, actors and crew to protect kids from tobacco promotion on screen.
"With no industry-wide safeguards in place, children can more easily view mature content, including streaming PG-13, TV-14, R, and TV-MA-rated movies and programs with tobacco imagery," the AGs said.
"[M]any streaming companies [have] failed to consider the impact that easy access to movies and programs with tobacco imagery has upon children."
The US CDC has projected that exposure to onscreen smoking will kill a million US kids alive today. In the middle of a pandemic, research in 2020 has established links between onscreen tobacco, young people starting to vape, and a heightened risk of infection and harm from COVID-19.
The AGs have worked for a generation to shield children from tobacco promotion in entertainment — an exploitive tactic dating back to the late 1920s.
In their letter to the Hollywood guilds, the AGs listed specific practices that could save kids' lives, including rating most future smoking onscreen "R" or TV-MA." Neither the film nor the TV industry has agreed to treat smoking as a rating factor.
Other safeguards backed by the Attorneys General: Onscreen warnings and anti-tobacco spots before material with tobacco content; parental controls that catch material with toxic tobacco content; and not steering young viewers toward smoking content.
In 1998, the state AGs settled a lawsuit against tobacco companies, to be paid on the installment plan. Last year alone, the tobacco companies wrote states checks for $6.1 billion — more than half of all Hollywood's domestic gross earnings in 2019.
The AGs sent a similar message to the nation's streaming companies a year ago. Disney and Netflix have both started labeling some of their titles for smoking since then. However, there is no evidence that labels reduce kids' toxic exposure.
In 2007, when the Motion Picture Association asked Harvard School of Public Health how to address the risk from onscreen smoking, Harvard told the studios that mere labeling was cynical, like what a tobacco company would do.
Attorney Generals' October 5, 2020 letter to the DGA, PGA, SGA, SAG-AFTRA and IATSE
USA Today story on AGs' letter
On October 5, this full-page Smokefree Movies ad repeated in The Hollywood Reporter