Exposure to smoking on screen recruits kids to vape. Vaping multiplies their risk of COVID-19.
September 17, 2020

New report describes a perfect vaping storm

On September 1Truth Initiative reported that smoking pervaded TV screens in 2018-19. It also reported this exposure triples young audiences' risk of vaping.

What makes this a perfect storm? 

When audiences flock to streaming channels during the COVID-19 pandemic, it boosts exposure to on-screen smoking. Researchers also report that young people who smoke and vape are 5-7 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19. Connect the dots:

1 | Tobacco on video: In its third annual survey of TV series most popular with 15-24 year-olds, Truth Initiative reports that 73 percent included tobacco, exposing more than 27 million young Americans to tobacco, including eight million teens. Tobacco incidents doubled in series rated TV-G or TV-PG. Season 3 of Netflix's Stranger Things (TV-14) topped the list with 721 incidents. 

2 | Recruits young people to vape: Truth Initiative also cites its research, first reported in Preventive Medicine, that exposure to TV incidents of all kinds triples the likelihood that young audiences will start vaping. While vaping itself is relatively rare on TV, young people vape at substantially higher rates than they smoke, so the effect was visible in vaping recruitment. The report tracks vaping on screen, such as HBO's youth-targeted drama Euphoria, and notes that UCSF Smokefree Movies spotted a vaping spike in 2019 films.

"Put simply, the more tobacco use a young person sees in shows, the more likely they are to start vaping,” said Robin Koval, CEO and President of Truth Initiative. “We feel an increased sense of urgency knowing that tobacco content is directly fueling the youth vaping epidemic."

3 | Increasing COVID-19 infections: Health risks from vaping and dual use of cigarettes and vaping devices are well documented. In addition, in July 2020, researchers at Stanford and UCSF reported that young dual users were 5-7 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19. They concluded that "[E]-cigarette use and dual use of e-cigarettes and cigarettes are significant underlying risk factors for COVID-19" with "direct implications for health care providers."

Hollywood doesn't have to find a cure for COVID. Just stop making it worse.

Pushing tobacco in media popular with the young addicts and kills millions. During a global pandemic that preys on every vulnerability, it's inexcusable. That's why Truth Initiative includes urgent policy actions, evidence-based and broadly supported by the public health community, shareholders and policy makers. 

We know what works | By holding MPA-member companies accountable, we've succeeded in cutting the tobacco exposure their youth-rated movies deliver to moviegoers by 90 percent — from a 2005 high of 19 billion in-theater tobacco impressons to a 2019 low of two billion. 

Now, many of these same media companies are pushing smoking and vaping to larger audiences, at home, in streamed original TV series and in on-demand, R-rated movies with twice as much smoking as five years ago.

We can't allow the surge of TV tobacco content documented in Truth Initative's pioneering surveys to sicken a new generation of young people.


Straight to vape (Truth Initiative's 9/1/20 report)

Media release (useful summary)

Video release (on YouTube)

USA Today article (exclusive, 9/1/20)