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Lighting Up the Screen? Smoking Glamorized in Popular Video Games

Many popular video games played by children have characters who smoke. (Truth Initiative)
Many popular video games played by children have characters who smoke. (Truth Initiative)
December 21, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – Before buying a video game for a young person on your holiday list, checking the warning label might be a good idea – and even then, it might not tell you everything you need to know.

Truth Initiative, a nonprofit anti-tobacco group, says smoking appears in 42 percent of video games, but only a fraction of those actually warn parents of that.

Robin Koval, who heads the group, says the video games also tend to make lighting up look very glamorous.

"In Grand Theft Auto, your character can actually buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke them,” she points out. “Or in another game called Assassin's Creed, also a very popular game, you can buy and sell tobacco for profit."

Truth Initiative has a new online report that features interviews with 44 young gamers, who describe tobacco use as making video-game characters tougher.

Research shows 56 percent of children play video games, and they do it on average for about two-and-a-half hours a day.

Koval says parents need to talk with children about smoking. She notes even if the games that glamorize smoking aren't allowed in their home, children are likely playing them at a friend's house.

She adds parents also can put pressure on the Entertainment Software Rating Board and the game manufacturers.

"They could choose not to include these smoking images,” Koval stresses. “They're really not that germane to being able to play the game and have fun. And in fact, maybe they even may make the games look less cool – I mean, the data is that fewer and fewer kids are smoking."

Perhaps that's true in some places, but in Indiana, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says just over 18 percent of teens are smokers.

Only five other states have higher numbers. They are Arizona, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN