Are you a fan of Degrassi: the Next Generation, on Teen Nick? Well, I've got news for you. In the first show of the season, which aired last Friday, one of the characters got into trouble abusing drugs. I can't tell you much more than that, but I do know that when someone decides to take a drug the first time, it can be for many reasons, like to get a buzz, to experiment, or just to fit in. But, if you keep taking drugs, they can change the chemicals in your brain so that you may not be able to stop.
Degrassi star Jamie Johnston has recorded a special message about drug abuse that played during the show. But, hey, since you're here, why not view it now on NIDA's YouTube channel.
If you were the producer of a crime show on TV, and your police officer character was a chain smoker, how would you write the scene where he chases a criminal down the street? A chain smoker would probably be winded, because of less lung room. So you’d show him panting and out of breath. As noted in NIDA’s Drugs: Shatter the Myths booklet, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use are often depicted in popular entertainment and media. And because TV and movies can influence what people think and believe, the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc., the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and FX have teamed up to host the 15th Annual PRISM Awards. This nationally televised awards show recognizes actors, movies, music, media, and TV shows that “accurately depict and bring attention to substance abuse and mental health issues, including prevention, treatment, and recovery.”
The PRISM Awards recognize people in the creative world who “tell it like it is,” showing the reality of important health issues and increasing awareness. Winners are chosen based on entertainment value, accessibility of the message about substance abuse or mental health issues, and scientific accuracy.
So who’s doing a good job of depicting substance abuse and mental health issues? This year’s PRISM nominees include the movie Iron Man 2 and the prime-time television series, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Drop Dead Diva, The Vampire Diaries, and Degrassi: The Next Generation. Nominees also include reality shows and documentaries such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, Intervention, MTV’s If you Really Knew Me, and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
So, mark your calendar: the 15th Annual PRISM Awards will take place on April 28, 2011. To read more about the PRISM awards and to see a complete list of this year’s nominees, visit http://www.prismawards.com.
The Government banned cigarette commercials on television in 1970 after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report found that smoking cigarettes increased your chances of getting lung cancer. This was a big deal, considering the strong smoking culture in the United States at the time. However, this ban didn’t stop smoking on television. Forty-years later, characters on television shows continue to smoke.
And, what if we told you that teens are one of the primary audiences for some of those shows?
Researchers from Columbia University and Legacy (formerly the American Legacy Foundation), an anti-tobacco group that produces the “Truth” anti-smoking ad campaign, teamed up to find out how often tobacco use shows up on TV shows popular with teens. The shows included:
“Gossip Girl,” “Heroes,” “American Dad,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Family Guy,” “House,” and “The Simpsons.” They also looked at reality shows like “America’s Next Top Model” to measure depictions such as smoking, or even showing a pipe or pack of cigarettes on screen.
TV Shows Still Smokin’
Researchers watched every episode of the season. Of the 73 episodes in the analysis, 40 percent contained at least one depiction of tobacco (mainly cigarettes), double the rate from a similar study 10 years earlier. In all, there were 271 depictions, which worked out to an average of 4.4 depictions an hour.
Published in February 2011, the researchers concluded in their study:
Substantial tobacco use was observed in television shows popular among youth. It is projected that almost 1 million youth were exposed to tobacco depictions through the programming examined. Tobacco use on television should be a cause for concern, particularly because of the high volume of television viewing among younger audiences.
Other research on the connection between hours spent watching TV and young people taking up smoking, it was found that tweens and teens who watched 5 or more hours of TV each day were almost six times more likely to take up smoking than those who watched less than 2 hours.
Why Does It Matter?
Seeing other teens and young adults—celebrities, entertainers, and musicians—smoking can make it seem “cool” or popular. In fact, tobacco companies are counting on it and have invested a lot of time and money to find out the best places to reach teens. Just because the tobacco companies are banned from showing commercials on television doesn’t mean they can’t influence the content of TV shows in other, more subtle ways, or use other tools to influence smoking behavior.
Fortunately, NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders found that smoking is decreasing to historically low rates among teens, so it appears most young people are smarter than the tobacco marketers had hoped.
Which Program Had the Most Smoking-Related Depictions?
Meanwhile, can you guess which primetime program that the Columbia University and Legacy researchers studied showed the highest incidence of smoking-related depictions? Was it (a) “Gossip Girl,” (b) “Heroes,” or (c) “America’s Next Top Model”? If you picked (c), the reality-based show “America’s Top Model,” you got it right.
Kind of ironic that a show about being beautiful and glamorous shows young girls using an addictive product that eventually will make their teeth yellow, cause premature wrinkling, and possibly lead to cancer, emphysema, or heart disease—none of which is very glamorous!
What do you think about depictions of smoking on TV? To answer the question, you can either write your response in the “Leave a Reply” box below or send us a message. As always, we read all comments and consider all feedback! We look forward to hearing from you.
To learn more about the effect of product placement on teens, check out Drugs: Shatter the Myths.
Sometimes, the best entertainment takes you to an alternate world and helps you forget about your stresses for a while. Other TV shows and movies succeed because they are so true to life that you feel like the characters could be living next door.
Each year, the Voice Awards honor films and television shows that accurately portray behavioral health issues, including drug and alcohol abuse, trauma, suicide, and other mental health problems.
You can read full descriptions of the movies and TV shows—such as “Glee” and “Parenthood”—that were honored in 2012.
Accuracy Is Essential
Why is this recognition important? Many people (teens and kids especially) watch what’s onscreen and believe it to be accurate. This can lead to problems, like if a teen watches a party movie and starts to believe that everyone their age is getting wasted on Friday nights.
When shows reinforce myths about drug abuse or mental health problems, they can hurt already vulnerable people in our society. Examples include implying that all people with mental illness are dangerous, or that people who have drug problems are “bad”—inviting our judgment instead of our compassion.
So the Voice Awards honor TV shows and movies that work to tell the real story. For instance, “Parenthood” portrayed the complications caused by alcoholism, as well as how the disease affects the entire family. In the episode Forced Family Fun, the main character’s ex-husband talks to his therapist in rehab about how his addiction harmed his relationship with his children and how much he regrets his past his actions.
If you’ve seen a TV or film production released after April 15, 2012 that you think offers a respectful and accurate portrayal of people with substance use or mental health disorders, you can nominate it for a 2013 Voice Award. Let us know in comments which movies or shows you think deserve recognition!