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Social Media Tobacco Warnings

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According to The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and others, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has called for tobacco-style warning labels on social media platforms to address the mental health risks posed to adolescents, citing evidence linking extended social media use to anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Mental Health Risks

Nearly half of teens felt worse about their bodies owing to social media use, and studies have connected over three hours of daily use to anxiety and despair. The average teen uses these platforms 4.8 hours per day.
Murthy worried in his NYT op-ed that their addictive nature, designed to encourage engagement, makes it tougher for young people with developing brains and impulse control to track online time. Overuse can cause sleep deprivation and suicidal thoughts, he said.

Historical Tobacco Parallels

Murthy compared his suggestion to the 1964 Surgeon General’s smoking report, which led to the 1965 Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. This law required health warnings on cigarette packets and reduced U.S. smoking rates from 42% in 1965 to 11.5% in 2021.
The Surgeon General questioned the lack of a similar response to social media’s effects, which he believes result from unfettered deployment of powerful technology without safety precautions, transparency, or accountability.

Legislation Support And Action

Dr. Murthy’s warning label request was supported by Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who have worked together on internet kid protection legislation. No related measures are underway, so any surgeon general’s warning would require congressional approval.
Murthy wrote in The New York Times that a warning label would not make social media safe for children and urged Congress, companies, and the public to address the threats. He supported legislation requiring internet companies to exchange health data and allow independent safety checks.

Comprehensive Regulations

Besides warning labels, Murthy advised governments to prevent social media platforms from collecting sensitive data from kids and prohibit features like push notifications, autoplay, and endless scroll that encourage overuse. Companies should disclose health data with independent researchers and undergo safety checks, he said.
Schools should ban phones during lesson and social time.
Social media should be restricted till after middle school.
Murthy compared his suggestion to federal steps to protect consumer health and safety, such as grounding Boeing jets in January and recalling dairy products due to Listeria contamination.
The Surgeon General urged Congress, companies, and the public to address social media threats to teens.