For decades, we have asked teenagers and preteens to "Just Say No" to tobacco, alcohol and drugs. During the same period, tobacco, alcohol and prescription drug advertisers have spent billions annually to invite young people to "Just Say Yes." Movies featuring strong language, sex scenes or illegal drug use may receive an R rating and only be viewed by people at least 17 years of age unless accompanied by an adult. Tobacco, alcohol and prescription drug advertisers that utilize popular actors in blockbuster movies to promote their deadly products are not under the same restrictions.
This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that all tobacco advertising should be ended and limits placed on alcohol and prescription drug advertising. Short of these developments, the academy recommended movies that depict alcohol, tobacco or prescription drug use should receive PG-13 or R ratings for content that can and does promote the use of substances that endanger youth.
The effects of advertising are incontrovertible, advertising works; otherwise, companies would not dedicate billions of dollars annually to this purpose. In 1972, the then C.E.O. of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco sent an inter-office memo that said, "Product placement in movies are better than tobacco commercials because the audience is unaware of any sponsor involvement." Tobacco advertisers spend more than $15 billion annually.
The alcohol industry has little regulation and spends about $6 billion annually to promote their products. Unlike tobacco products that operate under some restrictions, alcohol advertisers, show beer, wine and liquor ads during primetime television shows and sporting events.
Nearly $4 billion is spent annually on prescription drug advertising. Drugs companies now spend twice as much on advertising then on research and development. A survey of physicians demonstrated that 92 percent of patients requested an advertised drug proving that advertising prescription drugs works.
It seems to me it is time to make any tobacco advertising illegal. The harm caused by tobacco is irrefutable and in an age when resources are becoming scarcer, we cannot ignore the costs of tobacco. Alcohol advertising and prescription drug advertising should be greatly reduced from where it is now if we truly want to protect young people.
When alcohol, tobacco or prescription drug use is depicted in movies, a disclaimer could be issued at the end of the movie warning of the risks associated with the products. These disclaimers could go a long way in changing the minds of young people that believe the use of alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs are normative behaviors. If we really want to protect young people, reducing advertising opportunities for tobacco, alcohol and prescription drug producers would be a good place to start. Remember all kids count.
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