Anti-tobacco group pushes for better labeling in video games

Anti-tobacco group pushes for better labeling in video games

(KAIT) - It's projected that advertisers will spend up to $7 billion by 2019 on ads in video games, but there is also unbranded placement that has some experts concerned. We got our hands on a report that tallied up the number of games that contain smoking as a character option.

Some let you know on the label, some don't. Like the crash 'em up car stealing video game Marina Spriggs' teenage son Joe loves to play. Since the game is rated M for mature, and he's not 17, she did her research, telling us, "I'm smart enough to know to talk to my child about the content that's in there." Including limiting bad language, violence, and even sex.

But she was surprised when we told her about an option in the game: "I had no idea that the game contained smoking at all."

In one study, 42% of video games reviewed contained tobacco images, but only eight percent of those had tobacco-related content descriptors.

"People should know that the smoking depictions have the potential to drive behavior," says Dave Dobbins, COO of the anti-tobacco group Truth Initiative.

He says there is scientific evidence that exposure to smoking in movies can influence teen smoking. He adds, "I think we can feel comfortable that the same results would happen if we followed a longitudinal cohort of people who are exposed to smoking in video games. One big difference, though, you're not just passively watching, sometimes you actually are the character who's smoking."

Truth Initiative showed a group of teens smoking scenes in a variety of games and asked them if the smoking would influence their behavior. One teen said, "I think having their favorite character smoking definitely can affect whether or not they become smokers later in life."

All of the games the kids looked at were rated "M" for mature, some contained the tobacco marking some did not.

We asked, Marina's son Joe--who does not ever use the smoking in his game--what he thought. He told us, "I think it's really unnecessary. What's the point of it?"

We reached out to the Entertainment Software Rating Board.  It told us:

"The ESRB uses over 30 different descriptors," so "it should not be surprising to find the tobacco content descriptor may not be included for titles that are rated 'M' (mature) for ages 17 and older."

The group stresses that games rated 'T' for teen or lower are assigned the tobacco label.

But Truth Initiative wants all games containing tobacco to be marked 'M' and to be clearly labeled with tobacco markings.

Dobbins, who stresses that he loves video games himself, says the main mission goes beyond ratings.

"That's not really about ratings as much as it's about education," he said. "It's building consumer demand for tobacco-free video games."

The American Cancer Society tells us it wants stronger controls on the industry and strongly assumes video games have an effect on youth behavior including tobacco use. The group says conducting more studies on the effects of tobacco depictions in video games is important.

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