Attorney General Andy Beshear joined a bipartisan coalition of 43 attorneys general in sending letters to the U.S. streaming industry urging them to take proactive steps to protect young viewers from tobacco imagery in video content.
The letters were sent to Amazon.com, Apple, AT&T, CBS Corporation, Comcast Corporation, Discovery, The Walt Disney Company, Google, Lionsgate, Netflix, Sony, Viacom and Walmart.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, tobacco imagery is linked to the “initiation of smoking among young people.” Recent reports by the Truth Initiative and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that on-demand content contained more tobacco imagery than traditional content or broadcast shows, and more than half of PG-13 films released between 2002 and 2017 showed tobacco use.
Beshear said, while smoking remains the number one preventable killer in the U.S., causing over 480,000 deaths per year, the CDC indicates the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes is increasing, with 2.1 million users in 2017 compared to 3.6 million users in 2018.
“Preventing young Kentuckians from starting and continuing to smoke is of critical importance to my office and to the public health of our communities,” Beshear said. “Video streaming companies have an opportunity to work with us to entertain young people, while protecting them from the dangers of tobacco use.”
Recommendations provided by the attorneys general include eliminating or excluding tobacco imagery in streamed content for young viewers, “recommending” or designating only tobacco-free content for youth and family audiences, improving parental controls and mitigating the negative influence of imagery.
The letters are the latest action taken by state attorneys general to curb the use of tobacco and its marketing to youth through popular media. The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which settled litigation brought against tobacco manufacturers by 46 states and six other U.S. jurisdictions, requires tobacco companies to compensate states for some of the medical costs associated with tobacco-related illnesses and prohibits those manufacturers from targeting youth through advertising and promotions. The payments are determined according to a formula calculated, in part, by the number of cigarettes sold by companies that agreed to join the settlement.
The three largest cigarette manufacturers – Philip Morris USA, RJ Reynolds and Lorillard (the latter two now merged as Reynolds American) – pay most of the MSA payment. The MSA payments will continue as long as traditional cigarettes are sold by the member companies.
On behalf of the state, Beshear’s office monitors and enforces the terms of the MSA and the related statutes, in cooperation with other agencies.
In April, Beshear announced that Kentucky received more than $117 million from the MSA this year. Since the first payment in 1999, Kentucky has collected more than $2 billion under the agreement and Beshear says Kentucky is on pace to collect nearly $2.5 billion over the term of the MSA.
The Kentucky General Assembly has designated half of the MSA funds be invested in agricultural diversification through grants. The Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee oversees the determinations on grant applications from the state’s agricultural fund. Kentucky’s additional MSA revenues are used to help improve the health outcomes of Kentucky children and families.
The letters conclude, “We hope this letter is the first communication in an on-going discussion regarding the critical role streaming companies can play in the fight against the renormalization and glamorization of tobacco use.”