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More than 60% of US movies since 2002 have featured smoking. The World Health Organization and US health authorities agree: smoking in movies causes adolescents to smoke. The latest estimate? Films with smoking recruit 44% of all new young smokers in the United States %u2014 more than a million current US smokers aged 12-17. Of these, 360,000 will ultimately die from tobacco-induced heart disease, lung disease, and cancer.
Hollywood films spread the tobacco epidemic to young people in emerging economies around the world. US film and cigarette companies are all expanding aggressively into the emerging markets of Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Tobacco deaths worldwide, now five million each year, will double in two decades, with most of the disability and mortality in poorer nations. A billion lives are at stake in the 21st Century.
The US film industry has a long, documented history of collaborating with tobacco companies. A 1998 legal agreement to bar tobacco product placement deals on US soil did not stop the most heavily-advertised cigarette brands from showing up on screen. By 2005, smoking in US films had returned to 1950 levels. A strong international public protest campaign has cut Hollywood smoking in half, since then, but more than half of PG-13 films are still pushing tobacco.
The solution? Respect freedom of expression AND save millions of lives. In August 2010, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed four effective methods to permanently reduce teen exposure to on-screen smoking. Most important is to rate future films with smoking "R" (except biographical dramas, documentaries, and depictions of smoking%u2019s dire health risks). Studios already calibrate violence, language and sexual content to achieve a desired rating. Tobacco, the only film content proven to kill audiences, should be treated at least as seriously as offensive language.
State attorneys general have told the movie studios that they knowingly endanger children and adolescents each time they release a movie with smoking. The studios and the giant media conglomerates that own them must take industry-wide action now. I join young people, parents, community leaders, and health professionals around the world petitioning the US film industry to adopt a smokefree policy for G/PG/PG-13 films. The largest generation of young people in world history deserves no less.