Monday, February 7, 2011

New Report: Kids' Television Programs Contain High Amounts of Tobacco Use

/PRNewswire/ -- A new report published today in the Archives of Pediatrics &Adolescent Medicine shows substantial amounts of tobacco images in television programming most popular with young people who are at the greatest risk of initiating smoking. The study was conducted by Legacy, a national public health organization dedicated to reducing tobacco use in the United States and aimed to quantify teen exposure to smoking on television, given the powerful role that tobacco images in media play in influencing youth to smoke.

"Among young people aged 8 to 18, 30 percent of their media use is spent on watching television(1)," said Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, President and CEO of Legacy. "The report shows that nearly 1 million young people were exposed to tobacco images during the analysis, whether it was in an ashtray, on a billboard, or in a character's hands."

Researchers at Legacy reviewed more than 70 episodes of top-rated/prime-time broadcast television shows popular among 12-17 year olds such as Family Guy, Gossip Girl, Heroes and The Simpsons. All of the episodes (representing an estimated 61.5 hours of programming in a single fall season) were rated either TV-PG or TV-14 (2). TV-14 is a more stringent rating with respect to cautioning parents about the content their children see on television.

According to the report:

* The percent of episodes with any tobacco use depictions was highest on the FOX network (44 percent) followed closely by CBS-Warner Brothers, "The CW" (41 percent).
* Forty (40) percent of television episodes reviewed contained at least one depiction of tobacco use; of these depictions, 89 percent were of cigarettes.
* Among episodes rated TV-PG, 50 percent showed one or more incidents of cigarette use, in contrast to 26 percent of TV-14 episodes, the more stringent rating.


A higher proportion of tobacco use was found among programs rated TV-PG as compared with those rated TV-14, indicating that exposure to tobacco depictions may skew toward youth of younger ages, resulting in earlier exposure to this behavior. This may have an impact on teens' decisions to smoke.

Past research confirms a relationship between smoking in television and young people starting to smoke, with the risk for smoking initiation increasing markedly with more hours of television viewing(3). Additionally, smoking images in movies leads to an estimated 180,000 new young smokers each year, prompting public health advocates to ponder (or consider) the impact that smoking on television might have on youth.

"Since movies and television are not mutually exclusive media channels, the body of evidence pertaining to movies is highly relevant to television as well, particularly since most movies are shown on television after airing in cinemas," Healton said.

Legacy recently joined several groups in asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update its TV ratings system so that parents can be warned about depictions of tobacco use. One study has shown that parents are just as concerned about smoking content in media, which is not currently included in television ratings, as they are with alcohol use, profanity or sexual content.

Legacy is dedicated to building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Located in Washington, D.C., the national public health organization helps Americans live longer, healthier lives. Legacy develops programs that address the health effects of tobacco use, especially among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the toll of tobacco, through grants, technical assistance and training, partnerships, youth activism, and counter-marketing and grassroots marketing campaigns. The foundation's programs include truth® , a national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as having contributed to significant declines in youth smoking; EX® , an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. The American Legacy Foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. Visit www.legacyforhealth.org .

(1) Generation M2 Kaiser Family Study 2010

(2) TV-PG is defined as the following: “Parental Guidance Suggested. This program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children." In contrast, TV-14 is defined in the following manner: “Parents Strongly Cautioned: This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age" (34).

(3) Gidwani PP, Sobol A, DeJong W, Perrin JM, Gortmaker SL.(2002). Television Viewing and Initiation of Smoking Among Youth. Pediatrics, 110(3):505-508.

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