Watchdog says TV networks need to kick smoking habit


National health organization Legacy says there is entirely too much tobacco use in programs aimed at young viewers, and further notes that the percentage of programs containing tobacco references on shows rated TV-PG is even higher than those rated TV-14, the stronger parental warning of the two.

The organization called out Fox and CW as the worst offenders.

Legacy President/CEO Cheryl G. Healton said, “The report shows that nearly 1 million young people were exposed to tobacco images during the analysis, whether it was in an ashtray, on a billboard, or in a character’s hands.”

Shows popular among 12-17 year olds were reviewed, including titles like Family Guy, Gossip Girl, Heroes and The Simpsons.

From Legacy, the findings included:

* The percent of episodes with any tobacco use depictions was highest on the FOX network (44 percent) followed closely by CBS-Warner Brothers, “The CW” (41 percent).

* Forty (40) percent of television episodes reviewed contained at least one depiction of tobacco use; of these depictions, 89 percent were of cigarettes.

* Among episodes rated TV-PG, 50 percent showed one or more incidents of cigarette use, in contrast to 26 percent of TV-14 episodes, the more stringent rating.

The prevalence of smoking on the younger-skewing programs was seen as particularly problematic, since it could lead to a decision to use tobacco products at a younger age.

Legacy said that studies link smoking images in movies to the creation of about 180K new young smokers annually, and said there is reason to believe smoking on television would generate a similar record.

“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,” Healton said.

The group is asking the FCC to require that the television content ratings system be updated to warn parents when programs contain tobacco references.

RBR-TVBR observation: Ever tried to quit smoking? About the worst thing you can do in the initial phase of quitting is watch a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Anyway, we’ve come a long way from the days when actors playing doctors extolled the relative health benefits of one brand of cigarette over another in paid ads.

We note that Legacy is attacking the depiction of tobacco, not the right to depict tobacco, and we support the organization’s right to do that, just as we support PTC’s campaigns to dry up the advertising support of programs it doesn’t like.

Our household has become part of regular audience for Fox’s reality cooking program Hell’s Kitchen. We use that program as a teachable moment when it comes to smoking. Specifically, we and our children wonder why so many of the contestants, who want to rise to the top of the culinary profession, systematically use cigarettes to kill off their taste buds.

The moral of the story is to fret not over undesirable program content, but rather, use it to your advantage.