Democratic Senators Press Content Providers on Tobacco Depictions

No butts about it, a trio of Democratic senators want info and answers from a range of media companies--broadcast, cable, satellite and over-the-top--about what role the entertainment industry plays in promoting youth tobacco use, suggesting ratings should include tobacco use identifiers and any TV show showing tobacco be rated TV-MA and any movie get an R rating.

That came in letters to the top execs at a dozen or so companies, including Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, the four broadcast networks, AT&T (DirecTV), Viacom, Sony and Lionsgate.

Related: Tobacco Warnings Move Online

Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) sent the letters, saying that youth media consumption and the "anywhere, anytime" model of film and TV distribution as changed traditional boundaries among media." We are concerned that this new landscape across cable, satellite, streaming and traditional broadcast television provides a variety of viewing realms in which to foster the causal link between exposure to, and initiation of, smoking."

They argued that both the TV and movie ratings should include a smoking depiction warning. "Both film and television continue to expose children and adolescents to tobacco content conclusively provide to cause physical harm to young viewers," they wrote.

They are asking for information from the companies, including scripted content they offer, if they have a financial interest in the content, whether it contains depictions or references to tobacco use and how the content is rated, copies of tobacco depiction policies and/or production guidelines.

They also want their reaction to recommendations: 1) to rate all future content containing tobacco portrayals TV-MA on TV and R on film; 2) that the production had no tobacco product placement; 3) that "strong" anti-smoking PSAs will run "immediately before" any TV show or film with tobacco use; and 4) that they end promotional material with smoking depictions.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.