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Thank You for Not Smoking: How Big Tobacco Gets Free Advertising On and Off the Red Carpet

A plush red carpet, an extravagant display of haute couture fashion, and a thick haze of tobacco smoke — people following last year’s Met Gala on social media may have thought they were seeing colorized images from decades past when celebrities smoked cigarettes with disregard, and perhaps ignorance, to the consequences of tobacco.

At the 2017 Met Gala, A-list attendees were seen lighting up in the bathroom and posting photos on their social media channels. This event highlighted how celebrities can unwittingly become marketers for Big Tobacco, and it didn’t go unnoticed. The actions these stars took (which, incidentally, violated New York City’s Smoke-Free Air Act) provoked an uproar and prompted health officials to express concern about the effect such images can have on young fans.

The fact is, 99% of all smokers begin by the age of 26 — and in the U.S., nearly 90% start smoking before they even turn 18.

The non-profit Truth Initiative, the public health organization behind truth, the youth smoking prevention campaign credited with preventing more than 300,000 U.S. youth and young adults from becoming smokers during 2015-2016, has been fighting Big Tobacco for years.

The organization explains that by posting pictures of themselves smoking, celebrities inadvertently become spokespersons for the tobacco industry and promote use to their young fans. Every “like” or “share” of these smoking images is a big “thumbs up” for Big Tobacco, re-normalizing and glamorizing this deadly addiction.

This puts the onus on stars to speak out against the proliferation of tobacco imagery both on the big screen and on social media. Truth Initiative believes these images serve as free advertising for Big Tobacco, an industry that already spends more than $8 billion a year marketing these products to consumers.

The red carpet isn’t the only platform for tobacco imagery; research shows that whether in movies, streaming platforms, or video games, smoking imagery can have a dangerous impact on vulnerable young viewers.

According to published studies, 37% of new youth smoking in the United States can be attributed to exposure to images of smoking in movies. Furthermore, young people who are heavily exposed to tobacco imagery in film are two times more likely to begin smoking than those who aren’t consuming this sort of media.

Even hit streaming shows like “Stranger Things,” “House of Cards,” and “Orange Is the New Black” depict smoking prominently. For example, according to the Truth Initiative report “While you were streaming,” “Stranger Things” included 182 tobacco incidents in the 2016 season.

Both celebrities and fans can accidentally wind up marketing smoking to young social media users, which is why truth created the erase and replace tool, allowing users to replace the cigarettes in photos with something more positive. Users can upload an image, rotate and position it for maximum impact, then choose a mouth, body, hand, head, or random cartoon to put in place of the cigarette. Resize or flip it at will, and you have an image you can spread far and wide on social media to help eradicate smoking from the web.

Despite the drastic decline in smoking rates, tobacco is still the number one cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S. Truth Initiative believes that by eradicating Big Tobacco from the entertainment industry — whether on social media, television shows, movies, or video games — this can be the generation to end tobacco use once and for all.

This article is presented by Truth Initiative

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