Smoking is prevalent and often glamorized in video games popular among youth, according to Played: Smoking and Video Games, a review of research from Truth Initiative.

Researchers commissioned video interviews with 44 teen and young adult “gamers.” All 44 recalled seeing smoking in games on a regular basis and tobacco use was viewed as making a character “tougher” or “grittier.”

Video game characters smoke in best-selling game franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Halo. More than 100 million copies of games that feature tobacco use from these franchises have been sold. While all are rated “Mature” (content generally suitable for ages 17 and up), they are played by teenagers nationwide.

Gamers interviewed for Truth Initiative discussed their exposure to tobacco via video game play

In a 2015 survey from the University of California, San Francisco, researchers verified tobacco content in 42 percent of the video games that participants reported playing; however, only eight percent of these games had received tobacco warnings from the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the gaming industry’s self-regulatory organization that rates video games and apps.

Playing video games ranks as the second favorite media activity for teens, and 56 percent of teens play video, computer or mobile games on any given day. Teens that play games average two hours and 25 minutes per day. Overall, teens spend more time per day on average playing video, computer or mobile games than using social media.

The science linking tobacco in video games to youth smoking behavior is still taking shape, but there are steps that industry and individuals can take to reduce the risk that kids could be influenced by video games to use tobacco. These include:

  • Game developers and publishers should stop including images of tobacco use in their games, particularly those marketed to or played by youth, regardless of their ESRB rating.
  • The Entertainment Software Rating Board should consistently identify and disclose whether a game contains tobacco use or tobacco references and rate games containing images of tobacco use with a “Mature” rating.
  • Parents and adults should recognize that many video games contain images of tobacco use and be aware that ESRB content descriptors may fail to mention it.
  • Public health advocates and policymakers should build awareness of tobacco use in video games and support research to learn more about its implications and communicate concerns with game developers and publishers.

More studies, especially longitudinal studies, are needed to determine whether exposure to tobacco use in video games leads to increased use or facilitates progression to regular use of tobacco.

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takeaways

  • 100 mil

    More than 100 million copies of games that feature tobacco use from popular franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Halo have been sold.

  • 56%

    56 percent of teens play video, computer or mobile games on any given day.

  • 8%

    One analysis found verified tobacco content in 42 percent of the video games that study participants reported playing, but only eight percent of those games included a tobacco warning from the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

  • 2:25

    Teens who play video, computer, or mobile games, play an average of two hours and 25 minutes per day.

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