Regarding "State Slashed Tobacco Prevention Funding" (Dec. 10): While states like Pennsylvania are spending less on tobacco control, they're spending more to subsidize film productions with smoking. These films are proven to recruit hundreds of thousands of teens to smoke. A recent report from the University of California, San Francisco, found that states recently began spending an estimated $830 million on films with smoking -- well above spending on tobacco control -- including $500 million on kid-rated films with smoking.
Example: Pennsylvania reportedly budgeted $75 million on film subsidies -- of which, on nationwide average, 60 percent goes to films that promote smoking. $45 million is more than twice as much as the state spent to prevent smoking. Based on data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and more than a decade of peer-reviewed research reports, UCSF estimates that about 62,000 current Pennsylvania smokers aged 12-17 became smokers because of their exposure to smoking on-screen. Of these, some 20,000 will ultimately die from tobacco-related diseases.
Not only will more addicted smokers add to states' health burdens, the states' indiscriminate film subsidy policies directly undermine effective tobacco control. We know that tobacco prevention programs are highly cost-effective. The evidence for film subsidies is much more controversial. Major national health and medical organizations have endorsed an R-rating for future smoking and other voluntary measures to encourage producers to keep kid-rated movies smoke-free.
Making youth-rated films with smoking ineligible for future taxpayer subsidies would also shape Hollywood decision-making -- and could free up state money for anti-smoking campaigns.
For more information on movie smoking, go to smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu.
Consultant to University of California, San Francisco
Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education