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Five ways to combat smoking in video games

We know that exposure to smoking imagery is linked with young people starting to smoke and that many video games glamorize smoking.

So how do we stop video games from providing free advertising for the tobacco industry, helping it recruit “replacement smokers” for the 1,300 people who die every day from a tobacco-related disease?

Truth Initiative® has five suggestions for action:

1. Build awareness

Truth Initiative’s “Played: Smoking and Video Games” report and corresponding webinar from Dr. Elizabeth Hair, senior vice president of evaluation and research, are good resources for building awareness about the issue. Parents and adults should know that many video games contain tobacco use and be aware that Entertainment Software Board (ESRB) content descriptors often fail to mention tobacco content.

2. Promote better ratings

The ESRB, the gaming industry’s self-regulatory organization that rates video games and apps, should consistently identify and disclose if any game contains tobacco use or tobacco references. We also support the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control guidelines, which recommend “a ratings or classification system that takes into account the depiction of tobacco products, use or images in rating or classifying entertainment media products (for example, requiring adult ratings which restrict access of minors), and that ensures that entertainment media aimed at children (including cartoons) do not depict tobacco products, use or imagery.”

3. Urge developers and publishers to drop tobacco

Game developers and publishers should stop including tobacco use and tobacco images in their games, particularly those marketed to or played by youth, regardless of their ESRB rating. Given what we know about the effects of smoking in the movies on youth initiation, they should take this step immediately. Research suggests that pressure on film producers has succeeded in decreasing tobacco imagery in youth-rated movies, and the same efforts should be used to influence game developers and publishers.

4. Support more research

Public health researchers should conduct more studies of the relationship between video games and tobacco, including longitudinal studies that can help shed light on the question of whether exposure to tobacco use in video games leads to increased use, or facilitates progression to regular use of tobacco.

5. Educate policymakers

Policymakers should recognize that the prevalence of tobacco use in video games may undermine public health gains in the reduction of youth tobacco use. Indeed, some research suggests that tobacco content in video games suitable for youth increased during the period of time that tobacco decreased in movies. They should encourage responsible industry practices.

To learn more about the influence of smoking imagery in video games, read Truth Initiative’s report “Played: Smoking and Video Games.”