Saturday, May 31, 2003

Anti-smoking group brings fight close to home

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FLORENCE - A Northern Kentucky anti-smoking group wants to stop the tobacco industry from marketing via youth-oriented movies.

Through flyers and palm cards, members of the Coalition of Minors Battling Tobacco (COMBAT) will inform customers of a Florence video store this afternoon how tobacco companies are targeting teens by placing their product in PG and PG-13 movies. Targeted movies include Sum of All Fears, XXX, Men in Black II and About a Boy.

"Hopefully, we'll increase people's awareness of how pervasive tobacco imagery is in movies targeted toward youths," said John Mains. The 17-year-old junior at Simon Kenton High School is chairman of COMBAT and a community health educator in charge of youth tobacco prevention for the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department.

"(Today's event) is the culmination of a project where we watched recent movies and selected a few that had heavy tobacco use and were targeted at teens," John said.

Previously, COMBAT placed informational cards in youth-oriented films at Rob's Video in Covington and Showtime Video in Alexandria. One side carries a 1972 quote from the head of a movie and TV company bragging how film is the best commercial for tobacco use "because the audience is totally unaware of any sponsor involvement." The other side relates how smoking kills 1,200 people a day and asks the video customer to "give that some thought as you're watching this movie."

Today's event at the Movie Gallery in Florence is part of COMBAT's observance of World No Tobacco Day.

The 15-year-old annual event is sponsored by the World Health Organization to show how tobacco use affects public health.

This year, anti-smoking advocates hope to show how the entertainment business increases tobacco use, especially among youths.

According to research from the Smoke Free Movies Campaign, two out of three tobacco shots in the 50 top grossing movies released from May 2000 through April 2001 were in kid-oriented G, PG and PG-13 films.

"People need to be aware that tobacco companies use a subtle form of advertising by placing their products in the movies," said Andrea Birkemeier, senior health educator for the Northern Kentucky health department.

Birkemeier said Kentucky has the highest middle school smoking rate in the U.S., or 21.5 percent, compared to an 11 percent average nationally. Kentucky teens in grades 9-12 rank third in the U.S. with a 37.4 percent smoking rate, compared to a 28 percent national average.

Kentucky also boasts the highest adult smoking rate in the U.S., with 30.5 percent of adults 18 and older smoking, Birkemeier said.

Dr. Gary Crum, public health director for the Northern Kentucky health department, said that research from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that nonsmoking teens whose favorite Big Screen stars smoke are more likely to view smoking favorably.


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