As lawmakers push to eliminate smoking in public, there’s
still one place many people are allowed to light up with seemingly
no consequences: TV.
And according to a new report published this month in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, many of those television shows are popular with kids and teens.
Conducted by Legacy, a national public health organization dedicated to reducing tobacco use in the United States, the study aimed to quantify teen exposure to smoking on television, given the powerful role tobacco images in media play in influencing kids to smoke.
Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, President and CEO of Legacy said among kids 8 to 18, thirty percent of their media use is spent watching TV and during Legacy’s analysis, nearly one million young people were exposed to tobacco images -- from an ashtray, to a lit cigarette in a character’s hand, and anything in between.
Legacy researchers reviewed more than 70 episodes of top-rated/prime-time broadcast television shows popular among 12 to 17 year olds such as “Family Guy,” “Gossip Girl,” “Heroes,” and “The Simpsons” and found forty percent of all episodes reviewed contained at least one depiction of tobacco use.
Of those depictions, 89 percent were of cigarettes.
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.
The TV-14 rating stands for “Parents Strongly Cautioned” and is given to television shows with content that could be questionable for children whereas shows rated TV-PG, meaning “Parental Guidance Suggested,” are given to more kid-friendly shows.
However, the Legacy report found among episodes rated TV-PG, 50 percent showed one or more incidents of cigarette use, compared to 26 percent of TV-14 episodes.
Fox, CW most likely
Legacy said this finding could indicate 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.
The Legacy report also found FOX and The CW to be the most likely networks young people could see depictions of tobacco use.
Of the episodes with any depictions of tobacco use, 44 percent came from FOX and 41 percent came from The CW. Both networks are home to many popular shows aimed at teens like “Glee” and “Gossip Girl.”
Past research confirms a relationship between smoking shown on television and young people starting to smoke, with the risk for kids’ starting increasing with the more television they watch.
Additionally, past research has found depictions of smoking in movies leads to an estimated 180,000 new young smokers each year, prompting public health advocates to ponder (or consider) the impact smoking on television might have on kids.
"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," said Healton.
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.