Washington (April 16, 2019) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent letters this week to major online streaming companies, querying them about their role in promoting youth tobacco use and urging the companies to support actions to prevent youth smoking initiation. According to a recent report by the Truth Initiative, 79 percent of shows on online streaming services popular with individuals aged 15 to 24 depict tobacco use. Senator Markey notes in his letter that while research has found that smoking has declined overall in youth-rated movies from 2002-2016, it has effectively plateaued since 2010. This has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others to conclude that company-specific tobacco depiction policies are insufficient and that additional industry-wide measures are warranted. Senator Markey also points out that despite overwhelming evidence that tobacco depictions harm youth, movie ratings systems do not include tobacco content in ratings criteria.


Senator Markey and Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent letters to Alphabet, Inc., Amazon, Apple, AT&T, CBS, Comcast, Disney, Fox, Hulu, Lionsgate, Netflix, Sony, and Viacom.


“Both film and television continue to expose children and adolescents to tobacco content conclusively proven to cause physical harm to young viewers,” write the Senators in their letters. “Indeed, the recent survey of tobacco content in the streaming series most popular among young viewers suggests that smoking levels in TV-MA rated shows are comparable to R-rated films and the levels in the TV-14 shows are comparable to PG-13 films.”


A copy of the letters can be found HERE.


In the letters, the senators ask for copies of tobacco depiction policies or any other production guidelines or content standards with tobacco imagery as a factor that apply to the company’s owned content or licensed acquisitions, as of January 2014. They also ask for each company’s position on recommendations to make tobacco-free all original productions for viewers younger than age 18 and to require strong anti-tobacco public service announcements to run before or after any film or television show depicting tobacco or nicotine imagery. Copies of the responses can be found HERE


In June 2018, Senator Markey and several Senate colleagues called on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to take action to reduce youth exposure to smoking imagery, including e-cigarette depictions, in youth-rated movies and ensure responsible and consistent practices in rating youth movies with tobacco imagery.