Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) today is releasing materials presented to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in a scientific briefing requested by the MPAA last Feb. 23, 2007 in Hollywood on the health impact of youth smoking and the behavioral influence of films that depict tobacco use.
From the perspective of public health, tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 438,000 people in the U.S. and 5 million worldwide die prematurely each year from tobacco-related disease.
The presentations lay the foundation for the recommendation of Dean Barry R. Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health that the MPAA take substantive and effective action to eliminate the depiction of tobacco smoking from films accessible to children and youths.
HSPH has long been active in pressing for control of tobacco and smoking. In 1981, Professor Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the School’s Department of Epidemiology first described the health effects of secondhand smoke, linking it to increased lung cancer risk in people who had never smoked themselves.
In 1999, Associate Dean Jay Winsten, Director of the Center for Health Communication at HSPH, and Susan Moses, Deputy Director, went to Hollywood to advocate for avoidance of smoking in youth-rated movies. In December 2006, the new chairman and CEO of the MPAA, Dan Glickman, sent a letter to Dean Bloom asking for HSPH recommendations on smoking in films, and later invited him to make a scientific presentation on the impact of youth smoking and the behavioral influence of movies that depict tobacco use.
Dean Bloom in turn invited Associate Dean Winsten and the distinguished epidemiologist, Dr. Jonathan Samet from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to join in the presentation to the MPAA. Dr. Samet is one of the world’s leading experts on the health effects of active and passive smoking.
“We appreciate that movies are expensive, complex and demanding to make,” Dean Bloom told the gathering. But actors smoking in movies, he said, “serves to make smoking socially acceptable to kids.” He called on the MPAA to “take clear and effective action” to eliminate the depiction of tobacco use in films accessible to youths and for industry leadership to send a “clear, simple and publicly accountable message” to its members regarding such a policy.