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AG Herring: Video streaming industry needs to protect young viewers from tobacco

Herring urges the streaming industry to take proactive steps to protect young viewers.

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday joined an effort to urge the streaming industry to limit tobacco use in their video content.

The 44 attorney generals are trying to limit not only smoking but vaping and any other tobacco or nicotine products because of the growing use of tobacco products among teens.

Herring urges the streaming industry to take proactive steps to protect the lives of young viewers. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018.

Smoking remains the number one preventable killer in the United States and causes over 480,000 deaths per year.

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“The number of young people using e-cigarettes has risen at an alarming rate and the U.S. Surgeon General has said that exposure to tobacco in the media increases the likelihood of usage,” said Attorney General Herring. “Too many families in Virginia know the harmful effects of tobacco products all too well, which is why it’s so important to keep them out of the hands of young people. We need to make sure that entertainment companies are sending young people the right messages about tobacco usage instead of romanticizing something that could eventually kill them.” 

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Joining Attorney General Herring in sending the letter are the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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The U.S. Surgeon General in 2012 determined that watching movies with tobacco imagery increases the likelihood that adolescents will become smokers. 

In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge the video streaming industry to adopt the following policies to protect young viewers from the ill effects of tobacco content:

  • Eliminate or exclude tobacco imagery, including smoking, vaping or the use of any tobacco or nicotine product, in all future original streamed content for young viewers, including any content rated TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, G, PG, and PG-13, and ensure that any promotional material such as previews, trailers, image galleries, and clips be tobacco-free. Content with tobacco imagery should be rated TV-MA or R and only recommended to adult viewers.
  • Only “recommend” or designate tobacco-free content for children, adolescents, families, and general audiences.
  • Improve or offer parental controls that are effective, prominent, and easy-to-use, that allow parents and guardians specifically to restrict access to all content with tobacco content, regardless of rating.
  • Mitigate the negative influence of tobacco content, from whatever source and with any rating, by streaming strong anti-smoking and/or anti-vaping public service announcements, as appropriate, before all videos with tobacco content.

Netflix, the streaming service, has already vowed to make changes to its original content moving forward, following a report from an anti-smoking group that called out the streaming giant for the number of times it showed images of tobacco and characters smoking in shows popular among teens and young adults. 

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