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Video Games: Big Tobacco’s New Backdoor Marketing Frontier

Video Games: Big Tobacco’s New Backdoor Marketing Frontier

Smokefree Coalition media release, 27 January 2016

The Smokefree Coalition warns that big tobacco, well-known for its sneaky product placement techniques, has found a backdoor method of marketing to New Zealand children.

New research from the University of California in San Francisco has found that nearly half (42 percent) of video games released between 1994 and 2015 feature characters smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes and/or other products, or making reference to tobacco products in their dialogue with users.

Smokefree Coalition Director Dr Prudence Stone says there is good evidence that smoking in movies influences young people, but much less is known about the influence of interactive games that feature smoking.

“A recent US Surgeon General’s Report says adolescents aged 12 to 17, who see the highest amount of smoking in movies, are twice as likely to start smoking then those with the least exposure. How much more likely is it that gaming adolescents, so avidly immersed in their favourite pastime, will be influenced by the behaviour of the characters in the games?

“There may not be any official figures yet around this, but it’s a no brainer, really. That the tobacco industry seems to have invested in product placement to this degree within video games is an alarming indication that they have already done their own research.”

She says researchers at the Truth Initiative found tobacco use in video games seems almost always to be presented positively. Young people they interviewed thought smoking characters seemed more cool and powerful, describing them as “bad ass” and looking “more in charge”.

Dr Stone says featuring tobacco in video games increased markedly after 2005 after smoking in feature films started to wane – largely due to a 1998 settlement between the tobacco industry and the US Attorneys General forbad product placement in movies made in the US. She also notes that it was around this time that New Zealand became a popular location for US filmmakers.

“It may not be public knowledge that tobacco companies pay video game makers to feature their products, but it’s highly likely given the industry’s propensity to profit wherever addiction occurs.

“Video games are addictive in their own right and would therefore have huge investment appeal to tobacco companies, providing a new frontier for marketing their deadly products to kids.”

The Smokefree Coalition wants more funding for research into youth and young adult exposure to tobacco in gaming and says New Zealand’s Smoke-free Environments Act must be reviewed to ensure the ban on tobacco marketing to children is adequately regulated and enforced in all mediums – “for the sake of the next generation”.


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