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Rutledge urges Netflix, Amazon & Hulu to self-regulate tobacco imagery

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Attorney General cautions networks about resurgence of youth tobacco and nicotine use

Attorney General’s Office LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has joined 42 state attorneys general and jurisdictions in a letter to U.S. companies that stream movies and television shows urging them to adopt better business practices to protect young viewers from tobacco imagery in video content. The letter was sent to popular companies which include Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

“Due to the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, we are experiencing a resurgence of tobacco and nicotine use by our youth and school-aged children,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “When our children see these dangerous products glamorized by the Hollywood industry they are more likely to become smokers which creates a cycle of addiction that we have been fighting for decades.”

The letter urges streaming companies to exclude tobacco imagery from content designated for children, adolescents, families and general audiences, and to improve parental controls so that parents and guardians may easily restrict access to content with tobacco imagery.

A 2018 report published by the Truth Initiative and the University of California San Francisco found that popular streamed shows viewed by young people featured an increased frequency of tobacco imagery than shows on broadcast or cable television. The U.S. Surgeon General has determined that adolescents who watch content with smoking are more likely to become smokers.

The full list of companies receiving the letter include: Amazon Prime, AT& T (DirecTV Now; HBO Now), Cinemax, CBS Corp.

(CBS All Access), Disney (DisneyNOW, Disney+, ESPN+), Hulu (Disney), iTunes (Apple), Netflix, Sony (Crackle, Playstation Vue), Starz, Viacom (Pluto TV), Walmart (Vudu), and Youtube (Google), along with streaming services expected from Comcast Corp. (NBCUniversal), Discovery (HGTV, Animal Planet), and AT& T’s WarnerMedia Service.

The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) resolved lawsuits on behalf of 46 states and six other jurisdictions, including Arkansas. The MSA imposed health-related and advertising restrictions on tobacco companies and required the settling manufacturers to make annual payments to the settling states. The Attorney General is tasked with enforcing the obligations of the MSA and tobacco statutes that were enacted pursuant to the MSA.

This enforcement includes operation of a certification process for tobacco manufacturers, ongoing quarterly and annual reporting, maintaining an Approved-For-Sale Directory, conducting audits, collection of escrow amounts and investigation or even litigation should violations of the tobacco statutes occur.

In other news:

• Attorney General Rutledge committed $50,000 for use by the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association. The transfer of funds was made available because of Act 876 of 2019, which appropriates law enforcement grants through the Rural Services Division of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Rutledge issued the following statement after speaking to the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association.

“Our law enforcement officers go above and beyond the call of duty everyday and I am committed to providing them the resources they need,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “I cannot thank our law enforcement and their families enough for their time and sacrifice.”

• Rutledge has filed a suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court against Imran Bohra and his company, Entropy Systems, Inc., for violations of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. “This lawsuit was necessary to combat Bohra’s brazen disregard for the health and safety of his tenants,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “It is unacceptable that Bohra refuses to address numerous housing code violations, yet he is still determined to lease homes with serious structural and safety issues to Arkansans, who simply want affordable and safe housing.”

From 2016 to January 2019, Bohra was cited with over 160 violations by the Little Rock and North Little Rock code enforcement.

• On Tuesday, Rutledge launched a statewide public service announcement addressing robocalls, a top issue impacting Arkansans.

Rutledge has been leading the effort nationally and in Arkansas to combat robocalls and spoofing calls to stop con artists from scamming consumers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Every person in the State is sick and tired of the never ending robocalls,” said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “I’m committed more than ever to do everything in my power to stop these calls and hold these scammers accountable.”

Rutledge also expressed support for congressional legislation namely, the passage of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act.

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