Anti-smoking ads urged

Proving that where there’s smoke there’s usually plenty of publicity, attorneys general from 32 states have signed on to a letter urging the major studios to affix antismoking public-service announcements to all new DVD and video releases in which smoking is depicted.

Campaign is being championed by Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who wrote the various heads of the major studios in a Nov. 14 letter.

Curran noted that the attorneys general first raised their concerns with the Motion Picture Assn. of America in 2003 about “mounting scientific proof that young people who watch smoking in movies are more likely to begin smoking.” The latest evidence came from a Dartmouth study, funded by the National Cancer Institute and released earlier this month, which researchers said establishes a “strong association” between exposure to movie smoking and tobacco use by adolescents.

In the letter sent to studio chiefs, Curran asks that each add to their upcoming DVDs a PSA being produced for theatrical exhibition by the American Legacy Foundation in conjunction with the Entertainment Industry Foundation and Will Rogers Institute. PSA is expected to be available early next year.

The National Assn. of Attorneys General has long been active in seeking to reduce smoking, which included previously lobbying that all movies containing depictions of smoking be given an R rating. However, it does not appear that the group has the authority to enforce such action, so it must be content with requesting that Hollywood do so.

Two representatives for major studios referred inquiries to the MPAA, whose spokeswoman, Kori Bernards, said each studio would decide for itself whether to carry PSAs. She added that descriptors in the movie ratings already delineate illegal activity, which includes underage smoking.

“Parents have the information they need to make decisions about what their kids see,” Bernards said. “That’s why we have a ratings system.”

Despite Curran’s assertion that there is a “direct relationship” between movies and “youth smoking initiation,” another recent study presented a somewhat different view. Released in August by the peer-reviewing journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, that survey concluded that “lower-class, nonsuccessful ‘bad guys’ ” were more likely to be shown smoking in movies, making portrayals of smoking anything but glamorous.

Although the research concluded that as opposed to showing smoking in a positive light, “the exact opposite is true,” it also proposed increasing anti-tobacco messages in movies and their coming attractions and “to help educate the public — especially children and young adults.” Indie films were cited as being more indiscriminate in their portrayals of smoking.

Curran’s office could not be reached for comment. More than 30 of his counterparts signed on to the letter, including attorneys general in New York, Illinois and the District of Columbia. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer was not among them.

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