Altering cartoons not a complete answer to curbing smoking among young people, professor says

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More than 1,500 classic cartoons from the Hanna-Barbera library - including "Tom and Jerry," "The Flintstones," and "Scooby-Doo" - are being re-edited to remove scenes that glamorize smoking, following a complaint to a British media regulator. A professor of addictions at the University of North Texas says editing the cartoons is not going to hurt efforts to discourage smoking among young people, but probably won't help a lot.

Dr. James Quinn, who directs the university's academic program in addictions, says he's not even sure that the cartoons reach a large audience of children in Britain, the United States and other industrialized nations.

"The advantage of editing these cartoons is in the developing world, where smoking is far more prevalent and television programming relies on older shows," he says.

Quinn says that exposure to smoking by siblings or parents will influence whether or not children will begin smoking as teens or adults more than exposure to smoking via the media. He says as with any addictive behavior, emotional health is a major factor in the decision to smoke or not smoke.

"If people are not emotionally healthy, they become more susceptible to a chemical solution. They need to recognize and be able to deal with their emotions," Quinn says.

He points out that tobacco is often cited as a "gateway" that leads to other addictive behaviors.

"So much of what we are doing in the ‘war on drugs' is symbolic, rather than practical," he says. "Ideally, we should be going after the source and regulate tobacco as a drug."

Even as Hanna-Barbera is altering the cartoons, Quinn cautions about making broad-brush alterations, and says the original, unaltered cartoons should be preserved as historical and cultural artifacts.

"In making these changes, we don't want to lose the artistic integrity of the cartoons. Nobody is suggesting removing the cigarettes from Humphrey Bogart in ‘Casablanca' or editing out former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's cigar," he says.

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