A report published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine that examined tobacco images in shows such as "Family Guy" and "America's Next Top Model" urged public health officials to lobby networks to abandon all depictions of tobacco use to avoid negatively influencing youth.
Over a three-month period in the fall of 2007, the study found that 940,000 youth ages 12 to 17 were exposed to smoking images while watching just eight shows, including the CW's "Top Model," which had the most depictions of tobacco use by far.
All of the authors are affiliated with the American Legacy Foundation, now known as Legacy, which was established to fight tobacco use among kids and teens.
The study examined 73 episodes of the shows from September-December 2007 and found tobacco depictions (cigarette, cigar and pipe use) in 40% and cigarette depictions in 33%. A depiction, according to the study, included images of a cigarette in a character's hands (even if unlit), as well as the appearance of an ashtray or billboard in a scene.
The eight shows were among the highest-rated in the 12-to-17 demo that fall, per Nielsen. In addition to Fox's "Family Guy" and CW's "Gossip Girl," the group included "American Dad" (Fox), "America's Next Top Model" (CW), "Desperate Housewives" (ABC), "Heroes" (NBC), "House" (Fox) and "The Simpsons" (Fox).
Over the 14-week period of analysis, the shows aired 61.5 hours of programming. "Gossip Girl" and NBC's now-canceled "Heroes" had no tobacco depictions.
With many episodes having multiple images, "America's Next Top Model" had 157 depictions, followed by "American Dad" with 57 and "The Simpsons" with 29. "Desperate Housewives" had four, while Fox's "House" and "Family Guy" had 13 and 11, respectively.
All programs carried one of two ratings from the TV Parental Guidelines system -- TV-PG or TV-14 -- meaning that parents should be warned that content might be unsuitable for those under 14.
In addition to urging health officials to encourage networks to drop all tobacco imagery, the report's authors support all shows that do include a tobacco depiction carrying a TV-MA rating, which means the show is not suitable for those under 17.
The 13-year-old Legacy Foundation said it recently joined with other public interest groups in urging the FCC to alter its ratings system to better inform parents about risks of tobacco depictions.
The report notes that several studies have found a relationship between smoking images on TV and youth smoking.