LOS ANGELES – With a new study showing that exposure to on-screen smoking prompts many American adolescents to light up, attorneys general from 32 states want Hollywood to slap anti-smoking admonitions on all new DVDs.
They signed a letter sent this week to 10 movie studios asking executives to add anti-smoking public service announcements to all home-viewing releases that depict smoking.
"We're urging (studios) to do more," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., author of the letter.
"The industry's leaders are responsible Americans," he said, "and I'm sure they're just as concerned about the health of their children as the doctors are."
The attorneys general suggest that studios include a public service announcement with all upcoming DVDs. A spot has already been developed by several organizations for theatrical use beginning in January.
Kori Bernards, a spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America, said studios will consider the request individually.
"There's no collective decision at this point," she said, pointing out that MPAA ratings already indicate whether a movie depicts underage smoking.
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School concluded that exposure to smoking in movies is a "primary risk factor" in determining whether kids will take up the habit.
The study, released Nov. 7, looked at 6,522 adolescents and found that 38 of every 100 who tried smoking did so because of their exposure to smoking in movies. The more on-screen smoking that kids see, the more likely they are to light up, the study found, regardless of where they live or whether their parents or peers smoke.
Bernards pointed to a study published in August by the American College of Chest Physicians that shows villains do more on-screen smoking than heroes.
"We in the industry recognize that this is a serious health problem," Bernards said. "Filmmakers have to have some creative rights to depict human behaviors because that's what movies are about."
This isn't the first time movie studios have heard from state prosecutors on the smoking issue. The National Association of Attorneys General adopted a resolution in 1998 asking the entertainment industry to limit tobacco use in films.
Members also met with studio heads and former MPAA President Jack Valenti in 2003 to discuss the impact of on-screen smoking on young movie watchers.