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PHAI’s Gottlieb supports smoke-free parks in Cambridge Chronicle Guest Commentary

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

On February 21, 2011, the local Cambridge newspaper, the Cambridge Chronicle, published a guest opinion piece by PHAI’s executive director supporting efforts to prohibit smoking in public parks in that city.  A similar proposal is pending in Boston and New York City passed one earlier this month.

Gottlieb’s commentary can be seen here.  He mentions 3 primary reasons for supporting the initiative: 1) health; 2) behavior modeling; and 3) litter reduction.

A list from Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights of nearly 500 cities and towns that prohibit smoking in parks can be found here (pdf).

Eurpoean Commission Publishes PHAI Collaboration on Tobacco Liability and the Health Costs of Smoking

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

In December, 2009, PHAI, working under a contract to GHK along with Dr. Amandine Garde of Durham Law School (U.K.), produced a Report to the European Commission on the topic of tobacco liability and the health costs of smoking which has just been published by the Commission.

It is hoped that the Report will encourage the Commission to consider legal and regulatory means to recover the health care costs caused by tobacco products from their manufacturers.   The fact that the Commission has published the Report can be interpreted as a positive sign.

Download the Report (pdf) here.

PHAI’s Gottlieb co-authors new study showing increased tobacco smoke expsoure of kids in multi-unit housing

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Today, Wilson et al., published a new study in the journal Pediatrics demonstrating that children who live in homes in which no one smokes inside have a 45% increase in cotinine levels if they live in apartments compared with detached homes. The findings came through analysis of data from the 2001–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

What this means is that it is likely that tobacco smoke from other units in attached housing results in tobacco smoke exposure for residents of “non-smoking” units.  Because there is no risk-free level of tobacco smoke exposure, there are several policy implications here:

  1. Potential residents of multi-unit housing should carefully check a building’s smoking policy before moving in because there is no such thing as a smoke-free home if there is smoking in the building;
  2. Landlords need to understand that a permissive smoking policy means more than increased fire risk and maintenance costs and should act accordingly; and
  3. While we may all respect the privacy rights associated with the home, tobacco smoke does not.

This study provides important evidence that the growing trend in smoke-free housing, besides enhancing property values, reducing fire risks and lowering maintenance costs, makes the home a safer place or everyone, particularly children and others who spend the most time indoors such as the elderly and disabled.

PHAI Addresses tobacco industry’s use of corporate social responsibility tactics and personal responsibility rhetoric

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

On June 29, 2010, the Public Health Advocacy Institute conducted a webinar on the tobacco industry’s use of corporate social responsibility rhetoric and tactics to try to improve its image, while still maintaining an emphasis on personal responsibility.

Tobacco companies use corporate social responsibility rhetoric and tactics to normalize their image and stave off further regulation and litigation by appearing to have improved their corporate behavior.  Simultaneously, the industry uses the theme of personal responsibility to shift the onus for tobacco products’ impact away from itself and back to the public.

A 60 minute Webinar entitled Tag! You’re It: How Big Tobacco Shifts Blame Back Onto the Public was broadcast on June 29, 2010 and is archived here. Power Point slides from the webinar are available here in PDF format.

Please check out our Issue Briefs here:


Topics covered by the webinar and issue briefs include:

The tobacco industry uses various corporate social responsibility programs to convince the public that it has changed and become more responsive to concerns about health and its products’ negative impact on society.

For instance, under the guise of corporate social responsibility, the tobacco companies run “youth smoking prevention” programs to appear as if they are combating youth smoking, but in reality, tobacco companies deny that their pernicious, vigorous marketing has any effect on creating the problem and instead focus solely on putting more responsibility on parents and children.  These programs have been found to be ineffective in preventing or diminishing youth smoking, perhaps by design, but they do introduce another generation of smokers to a tobacco industry with an improved image.

The industry’s secondhand smoke PR campaigns denied the inherent dangers of exposure to its products and instead made the issue one of “courtesy” and “accommodation,” once again shifting the responsibility away from the manufacturers to consumers and the general public.  Tobacco control advocates can use these findings to denormalize the tobacco industry through counter-marketing campaigns and to deny it the legitimacy it seeks through its corporate social responsibility shell game.

Tobacco company sponsored smoking cessation information programs try to shift the responsibility to smokers, most of whom became addicted to their products as children.  Meanwhile, the companies never discuss any efforts to make their products less addictive.

PHAI’s Gottieb co-authors piece in NEJM: Puffing in public housing poses serious health risks to tenants

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Media contacts: Valerie Wencis, Massachusetts General Hospital, 617.726.0274,

Todd Datz, Harvard School of Public Health, 617.998.8819,

Barry Wanger, Northeastern University School of Law, 617.965.6469,

Researchers examine risks and consequences of cigarette smoking to all inhabitants of multiple-unit housing; challenge status quo

BOSTON– In an effort to protect children from harmful tobacco smoke exposure, health and medical professionals are pushing for a ban on smoking in public housing in a report appearing in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

“Research shows that those living in multiple-unit housing are being exposed to toxins from tobacco smoke,” says Jonathan Winickoff, MD, MPH, lead author and pediatrician at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC).  “Even if you are not a smoker and don’t smoke inside of your own apartment, if you have a neighbor who is smoking inside of his, the entire building is contaminated.”

Over 7 million people are served by public housing in the U.S., with 4 in 10 units occupied by families with children.  On July 17, 2009, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a memorandum that strongly encouraged local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to implement no-smoking policies in some or all of their public housing units.  While surveys indicate that 4 in 5 nonsmokers prefer smoke-free building policies, and many private landlords throughout the country have made their housing units smoke-free, only about 4% of PHAs have banned smoking in the units they manage. The article gives specific guidance on policy options for PHAs and HUD to protect all residents from tobacco smoke exposure and clarifies that there are no legal barriers to banning smoking in public housing. “HUD has taken an important step,” says coauthor Michelle Mello, J.D., Ph.D. of the Harvard School of Public Health, “but it could do more to prod lagging PHAs to take action.”

The National Toxicology Program has identified more than 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals in tobacco smoke, 11 of which are class A carcinogens. Numerous epidemiologic studies show that exposure to tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer and cardiac disease in nonsmokers, and the Surgeon General’s report on involuntary smoking concluded that there is no safe level of exposure.  Even brief exposures to tobacco smoke can adversely affect nonsmokers, especially children, who experience increased rates and severity of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Smoking in a single unit within a multiunit residential building puts other residents of the building at risk.  Tobacco smoke can move along air ducts, through cracks in the walls and floors, through elevator shafts, and along plumbing and electrical lines to affect units on other floors.  Mitigation measures like fans and air filters are not effective in preventing exposure. High levels of tobacco toxins can persist in the indoor environment long after the period of active smoking — a phenomenon known as third-hand smoke.  Tobacco toxins from smoke are deposited on indoor surfaces and reemitted in the air over a period of days to years, and are found on rugs, furniture, clothing, and floors – all surfaces that children crawl and play on.

While it is clear that second and third hand smoke are inimical to the health of nonsmokers in multiple housing units, there are challenges facing public housing authorities, landlords and nonsmokers.  Any addiction is difficult to overcome and a ban would put pressure on tenants addicted to nicotine, and could raise concern over how to deal with tenants who continued to smoke inside their building.

“Any no-smoking policies within PHAs would need to be accompanied by clear instructions on how residents can access evidence-based smoking-cessation resources,” says coauthor Mark Gottlieb, J.D., Executive Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law.  Currently most state Medicaid programs do not cover comprehensive tobacco-dependence treatments, a situation that may change with an increased emphasis on tobacco control in healthcare reform. However, right now, free smoking cessation services are available in all 50 states though the quitline.

“Rather than prohibiting smokers from inhabiting public housing units, prohibiting the act of smoking on the premises would minimize the ethical concerns relating to a smoking ban,” says Mello.   “This type of policy would encourage smokers to quit, since only those who continued to smoke on the premises would be required to move out.”

Creating and maintaining smoke-free living space that encourages smoking cessation not only provides a healthy environment for children as they grow, it discourages them from picking up the habit.  “When children see smoking in and around their homes, it normalizes the behavior for them,” says Mello.  “Research shows that no-smoking policies in the home lead to lower smoking initiation rates by teens.”  Americans living below the poverty level are 1.6 times more likely to smoke; adopting a smoke-free policy in public housing units encourages inhabitants to “fight back” against the intense tobacco marketing that exists in low-income neighborhoods.

“As we move forward and further explore public housing policy, it is important to remember that the status quo is not acceptable for America’s children,” says Winickoff.  “Each child deserves a healthy start, and we can help provide this by encouraging smoke-free home environments.”

About the Massachusetts General Hospital

Founded in 1811, the MGH is the third oldest general hospital in the United States and the oldest and largest in New England. The 900-bed medical center offers sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic care in virtually every specialty and subspecialty of medicine and surgery. Each year the MGH admits more than 46,000 inpatients and handles nearly 1.5 million outpatient visits at its main campus and health centers. Its Emergency Department records nearly 80,000 visits annually. The surgical staff performs more than 35,000 operations and the MGH Vincent Obstetrics Service delivers more than 3,500 babies each year. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the country, with an annual research budget of more than $500 million. It is the oldest and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, where nearly all MGH staff physicians serve on the faculty. The MGH is consistently ranked among the nation’s top hospitals by US News and World Report.

About Harvard School of Public Health

Harvard School of Public Health ( ) is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit:

About The Public Health Advocacy Institute

The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) is a legal research center at Northeastern University School of Law that focuses on public health law. PHAI’s goal is to support and enhance a commitment to public health in individuals and institutes who shape public policy through law.  PHAI is committed to research in public health law, public health policy development; to legal technical assistance; and to collaborative work at the intersection of law and public health. 


Report on Altria Group, Inc.’s Annual Shareholders Meeting – Richmond, Virginia, May 20, 2010

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

By Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney- PHAI


On May 20, 2010, the Commonwealth of Virginia executed Darick Demorris Walker, who had been convicted of murdering Stanley Beale in 1996 and Clarence Elwood Threat in 1997.  Also on May 20, 2010, the Altria Group, Inc. Annual Shareholders Meeting took place in Richmond, Virginia.

During the meeting’s question and answer session, shareholder Anne Morrow Donley asked chairman and chief executive officer, Michael E. Szymanczyk the following question: “Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court made a quite controversial decision, noting that essentially corporations are like people.  Therefore, fair is fair.  There’s a death penalty when murder is committed, so it seems only fair that there should be a corporate death penalty for this company because it admits that it is making a product that kills people.  A corporate death penalty could require Altria to apologize for its weapons of mass destruction and could require Altria to cease and desist from the destruction of life.  So my question is, since the company itself has admitted in legal proceedings that it makes products which kill people, and courts in various states have upheld challenges from the company saying that Altria is legally responsible for the deaths of customers, therefore, why should not Philip Morris, or Altria itself, not be subject to the death penalty?”

His response was to fall back on the tired refrain that cigarettes are a “legal product” and that people, aware of smoking’s risks, still choose to do so.


Having noted that Philip Morris had lost jury verdicts in seven “Engle Progeny” cases during a 15-month span, Tobacco Products Liability Project Senior Attorney Edward L. Sweda, Jr. asked Mr. Szymanczyk when his company will change its policy of refusing to settle the “Engle Progeny” cases, which number approximately 9500.  His response was to declare that Altria is “bullish” about the long-term prospects of tobacco litigation in the United States.   He said this even though in recent years, when state legislatures considered bills to put an artificial cap on total awards against tobacco companies in product liability cases, company lobbyists have supported such bills by portraying the company as risking bankruptcy if the caps were not imposed.  Mr. Szymanczyk’s “bullish” comment became the headline in the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s account of the meeting.


During his business presentation just prior to the question and answer session, Mr. Szymanczyk cited the company’s “Mission,” which includes a pledge that it will “actively participate in resolving societal concerns that are relevant to our business.”  Shareholder Rev. Michael Crosby of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, noted that, according to a report in late April in the Wall Street Journal in March 2010 Altria had attempted to remove four members of an FDA advisory panel because of alleged conflicts of interest.  The FDA rebuffed Altria’s attempt to remove those panelists.  Fr. Crosby said that such a power play by Altria contradicted that pledge.  Mr. Szymanczyk’s response was that the company is “participating in” the FDA’s regulatory process and that “part of participating involves representing shareholder interests.’


There were two shareholder resolutions considered at the 2010 Shareholders Meeting.  The first, which called on the company to “commission an independent study and issue a resulting report on the affect of our company’s marketing on the purchasing practices of poor people.  Shareholders ask that this report offer ways to alleviate the harm done to innocent children, such as food insecurity, by such adults who smoke.  Shareholders ask that this report include recommendations as to whether our Company should continue marketing its products in census tracts with over 50% poverty.”  Supporters of this resolution noted that families with at least one smoker spend 2% to 20% of their income on tobacco.  In many instances, such spending deprives children of necessities such as food.

Management opposed this resolution, claiming that Philip Morris USA’s “responsible marketing practices, cessation support and the regulatory authority of the United States Food and Drug Administration (‘FDA’) are sufficient to address the concerns raised by this proposal.”

This resolution received 4.3% of the total number of shares and, thus, is not eligible to be refilled for the 2011 Shareholders Meeting.

The second resolution called on the company to create human rights protocols for itself and its suppliers.  Noting that Philip Morris USA contracts with suppliers who employ migrant farm workers, the proponents cited the serious problems of Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS).  GTS occurs when the skin absorbs nicotine from touching tobacco plant; the illness threatens more than 33 million tobacco farm workers globally.  The shareholders supporting this resolution “request the Altria Board of Directors to commit itself to create procedures to implement the internationally agreed-upon core human rights conventions in the countries in which it operates and to find ways to ensure that its suppliers are enforcing these as well.”

Management opposed the resolution, claiming that there are already sufficient practices and programs in place in the United States that “address farm safety and working conditions.”  This resolution received 20.5% support and will therefore be eligible for submission next year.

TPLP’s Edward L. Sweda, Jr. (left), with Rev. Michael Crosby and Anne Morrow Donley of Virginia, on the morning of May 20, 2010, shortly before attending the 2010 Altria Group, Inc. Annual Shareholders Meeting at the Greater Richmond Convention Center

Report from the Reynolds American, Inc. Annual Shareholders Meeting -– May 7, 2010 – Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

By Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney – PHAI


The Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) Annual Shareholders Meeting took place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Friday morning, May 7, 2010.  According to a March 22, 2010 “Dear Shareholder” letter from President and CEO Susan M. Ivey, those shareholders who planned to attend the meeting “MUST pre-register for the meeting and request an admittance ticket no later than Wednesday, April 28, 2010.”

Reynolds American, Inc. Headquarters – Winston-Salem, NC. May 7, 2010

However, that letter, which was part of the company’s proxy materials, was not mailed to shareholders unless the shareholder specifically requested that the material be sent.  Unfortunately, both I and shareholder Anne Morrow Donley of Virginia GASP missed the deadline for requesting an admission ticket by one day.  Strictly adhering to the terms of this new rule, RAI’s Assistant Secretary, Dean E. Tsipis,  informed me that the company was “unable” to fulfill my April 29, 2010 request for an admission ticket.  “Unwilling” would have been a more accurate adjective.

Similarly, a new attendance rule by RAI kept out Keith T. Barber, a reporter for the Greensboro, North Carolina-based “Yes Weekly.”  On April 28, 2010, RAI “announced” – via a release via PR Newswire but not by directly contacting local reporters – that members of the media had to request an admittance ticket by April 30, 2010.  Mr. Barber, who arrived at the meeting on May 7, 2010, was barred from the meeting.


Winston-Salem’s taxpayers financially supported the heavy presence by the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) at the Reynolds American meeting.  Shortly after the 9:00 A.M. start of the meeting, there were four police officers standing in front of the building while four marked police cruisers were parked near the building’s main entrance.  At the side of the building were another two parked police cruisers.  As the FLOC demonstration was winding down at about 11:25 A.M., one of the WSPD officers told organizers of the demonstration that Reynolds management would like the demonstrators to leave the front of the building by 11:30 A.M.


Demonstrators outside Reynolds American Inc. headquarters, May 7, 2010

The major controversy at the RAI meeting was management’s unwillingness to meet with members of FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee), AFL-CIO.  (See this for details of FLOC’s campaign regarding Reynolds American.  FLOC has also described desperate conditions in North Carolina’s tobacco fields, noting that nine workers have recently died in the fields, most due to heat stroke.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, FLOC believes that “it has to be more vocal and demanding to persuade Reynolds to use its clout to pressure its suppliers to improve conditions for the state’s 30,000 tobacco farmworkers.”  The company insists that its supplier list is proprietary and has refused to reveal who they are.  Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Ministers

Picket sign denouncing GTS – Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs when the skin absorbs nicotine from touching tobacco plants

Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, said that “We believe it is Reynolds’ role, and under its sphere of influence, to require its suppliers to treat the farm workers with dignity and proper work and living conditions.”


Two of the shareholder resolutions considered at the meeting addressed issue of smoking and health and the company’s conduct.  The first resolution was filed by proponents who noted that in 2009 RAI had challenged some provisions of the new law which allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products, arguing that the law violated the company’s First Amendment rights.   RAI also contended that FDA restrictions had limited the company’s ability to “convey ‘truthful information’ about its tobacco products.”  Therefore, “shareholders request the RAI Board of Directors to oversee the inclusion in all RAI product advertising, promotion

FLOC’s rolling billboard, denouncing “corporate criminals.”

and marketing (including inserts in tobacco packages themselves) truthful information regarding the devastating health consequences identified with using such products.”  The proponents suggested that this truthful information cover the health hazards to smokers from smoking and to nonsmokers from breathing secondhand smoke; the decline in tobacco-related diseases when increased taxes on tobacco are combined with smoking restrictions; and the “human rights violations connected with undocumented workers in the U.S.A. and forced child labor in key ‘developing’ countries who pick tobacco leaf used by RAI.”

Not surprisingly, RAI management opposed the resolution calling on it to provide its customers with truthful information.  It claimed that “Our Guiding principles and Beliefs” are sufficient.

The resolution received less than 2 percent of the shares voted and, thus, will not be eligible to be refiled for next year’s Shareholders Meeting.

The next resolution, on Human Rights Protocols for the Company and Its Suppliers, received over 10 percent of the shares voted and will be eligible for refilling for the 2011 meeting.  The resolution requests that RAI’s Board of Directors “to commit itself to create effective procedures to implement the internationally agreed-upon human rights conventions in the countries from which it gets its tobacco and to find ways to ensure, through truly independent monitoring, that its varied suppliers are enforcing these as well as pertinent laws of the nations in which its suppliers operate.”  The proponents specifically cited the African nation of Malawi, where “countless children are being forced into slave-like situations to provide leaf for RAI products,” and that “forced child labor persists to the degree that the U.S. Department of Labor lists Malawi’s tobacco production as particularly egregious.”

RAI management opposed this resolution as well, claiming that respecting universally recognized human rights “is one of the foundations of how we conduct our businesses.”  Nonetheless, RAI opposed the resolution, stating that “we do not believe it is within our sphere of influence to assume the regulatory and enforcement role of the federal, state and local governments” in the United States.  Of course, the resolution had not called on the company to assume those roles; rather, the “truly independent monitoring” would be key to ensuring that the suppliers were adhering to these laws in countries such as Malawi.  The proponents noted that “RAI cannot dismiss the above problems by saying its suppliers ‘report’ they comply with codes covering farm workers’ basic rights and that no forced child labor takes place in tobacco fields supplying RAI product.”  If RAI feels it cannot enforce these basic codes, it could stop doing business with suppliers that abuse workers’ human rights.  It has never done so.

PHAI Publishes Case Study on NY State Reduced Ignition Propensity Cigarette Law

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

PHAI documented New York State’s enactment of the first reduced ignition propensity law for cigarettes.  For decades, state and federal legislators have sought to change the manufacture of cigarettes in order to reduce the risk of fire, and the tobacco industry has sought to delay or prevent state and federal regulators from regulating cigarette ignition propensity. In 2000, New York State became the first jurisdiction to enact legislation that regulates the fire safety of cigarettes.

 The persistence by legislators, advocates and government officials over many years on many fronts can overcome enormous obstacles.  A realistic assessment of the opposition at the very outset of the effort is essential. The threat of litigation required lawyers to carefully and realistically assess the strength of the legal issues that could be raised in litigation. Even though no one sued to block implementation of New York’s law, the threat of eventual litigation and its concomitant costs to the state made it critical for lawyers consulted by legislators and advocates to assess the true risks of litigation.

PHAI Publishes Case Study of the California Clean Cars Law

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

PHAI document the nation’s first piece of legislation, known as the “California Clean Cars Law,” which requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicle tail pipes. The state of California enjoys a special status under the federal Clean Air Act, allowing it to regulate vehicle emissions so long as it receives a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) of Clean Air Act preemption. California’s legislation was especially important for its potential national implications—under the Clean Air Act, other states can implement standards identical to California once an EPA waiver is granted.

Proponents understood and anticipated the legal challenges their initiative would face from the auto industry. Several express limits on the implementing state agency’s authority were added to the bill to satisfy the opposition and reduce the risk of legal challenges. The law’s findings section was specifically designed to meet the EPA waiver requirement of “compelling and extraordinary” circumstances, focusing on California’s particular vulnerability to climate change. Thus, the strategy of compromising on the legislation and delegating the details of implementation to a strong state agency (with only eleven voting members) was largely successful.

 The initiative benefited enormously from having a determined and media savvy legislative champion, a diverse coalition of outside supporters, the eventual support of the leadership of both the State Assembly and the State Senate, and support from two consecutive state governors. The role of the governors was also a pivotal factor, giving the allocation of resources needed to defend expensive, complex and lengthy legal challenges.

 The proponents benefited from their early courtroom victories. At least one of the decisions (the U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognizing EPA’s jurisdiction to regulate CO2) may well have been a welcome surprise. Despite their careful preparation, proponents did not appear to predict the historic denial by the EPA of waiver to allow the California law to be enforced. A waiver under the Clean Air Act had never been denied to the state of California before.  The current administration allowed the waiver. 

 Another important lesson is the proven value of concerted collaboration between environmental, public health, faith and business groups. Such collaboration was a key ingredient in the success of the California Clean Cars Law, particularly at the legislative level. Many public health initiatives have potential co-benefits and multiple constituencies. The collaboration inspired by the California Clean Cars Law demonstrated the potential for success when cross-cutting constituencies join forces to achieve mutually agreed upon goals. The resulting synergy multiplies the political and financial capital available to proponents, especially when faced with industry opponents that have tremendous resources at their disposal.

 Finally, the Clean Air Act’s approach to preemption—permitting a leading state to adopt more stringent standards than the federal government, which may also be followed by other states—could prove to be particularly important to emerging public health policy and laws, especially in the area of climate change. Among its advantages, this model recognizes and encourages states with a strong track record of innovation to develop and test potential solutions. This indicates that states are prepared to form coalitions and commit considerable resources to help raise public health and environmental standards nationwide.

PHAI Publishes Case Study on Denver, CO Regional Transportation Districts Dropping of a Ban on Violent Video Game Advertisements

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

PHAI documented the 2006 decision by the Denver, Colorado’s Regional Transportation Districts to drop a ban on violent video game advertisements. In the fall of 2006, Rockstar Games launched a national advertising campaign for its “Mature”-rated video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories in advance of the holiday shopping season.

  Advertisements ran on mass transit vehicles in cities across the country including Boston, MA, Denver, CO and Portland, OR.  In response to the advertising campaign in Boston, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (“CCFC”), a Boston-based child advocacy group, successfully orchestrated a campaign to have the Mass Bay Transit Authority (“MBTA”) change its ad policy to prohibit future ads for videogames rated “Mature” or “Adult Only.”  Inspired by the policy change in Boston, in early 2007, the Parents Television Council (“PTC”) in conjunction with CCFC sought to have Denver, Colorado’s Regional Transportation District (“RTD”) amend its ad policy to prohibit future ads for “Mature” and “Adult Only” rated video games.

The RTD initially was receptive to the policy change and referred the policy recommendation to a committee, which voted to recommend the policy. When it came time for the policy to be formally voted on, the Entertainment Software Association (“ESA”), the video game industry association, sent a representative to the RTD Board meeting. At the meeting, the ESA outlined its legal arguments against the policy change. After consulting with legal counsel, the RTD Board voted down the ad policy change

There were several key differences that may have caused success in Boston and failure in Denver. The Boston campaign came first, and the ESA did not get involved. The ESA received some criticism for its failure to prevent the Boston ban and stepped in to prevent the ban from spreading to other cities. While PTC had dealt with the ESA in the past, PTC did not expect ESA involvement in Denver’s particular case. The timing in Boston also may have been a critical factor.

The Boston campaign occurred while the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories ads were still running, which may have led to greater public and media interest. By the time the Denver campaign began, the ads had already finished running and there was less public attention. PTC felt that more public outcry would have been needed to overcome the threat of legal action. Also in Boston, several local politicians and police unions signed the letter requesting the ad policy changes. CCFC and PTC did not elicit the same support from locally known groups in Denver.

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