NYC’s Mayor Says Social Media is Like Smoking: a Public Health Hazard

NYC Public Health Hazard

New York City is taking a strong stance against social media and becomes the first city in the United States to designate it as a “public health hazard” and using imagery that compares it to smoking.

Mayor Eric Adams took the strong stance against Tik Tok, Instagram, and other social media sites in his State of the City address last week, going so far as to call the services “environmental toxins” that are just as capable of harming children and young teens as addictive substances like nicotine.

“Social media companies are fueling a mental health crisis, especially for our young people. But we won’t let Big Tech endanger our kids,” Adams wrote — somewhat ironically — on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“[New York City Health Commissioner] Vasan is today issuing an advisory officially designating social media as an environmental toxin in New York City. We’re the first major American city to call out the dangers of social media like this. Just as past U.S. Surgeon General did with tobacco and guns, we’re treating social media like other public health hazards and ensuring that tech companies take responsibility.”

The advisory says that the mental health of young New Yorkers has “been declining for over a decade” and points to data from 2021 that says 77% of New York City high school students spent three or more hours per day in front of screens (not including homework).

Last year, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory that excessive social media use could pose significant risk to the mental health of young people.

“I issued my advisory on social media and youth mental health because the most common question parents ask me is if social media is safe for their kids. While some kids experience benefits from social media, there is not enough evidence to conclude that social media is sufficiently safe,” Murthy said to ABC 7 last year. “Instead, there is more evidence that many kids are harmed by their use of social media.”

At the time, representatives from Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, told ABC 7 that mental health is a “complex issue” and any decline can’t just be attributed to social media, as the COVID-19 pandemic and academic pressure are significant players as well.

New York City’s stance isn’t the same as actual regulations, which the city has yet to enact. That said, Engadget reports that it is possible the city could follow what California did, though, which was to legally set limits on how much information a tech company can collect from underage users. Of note, the same day that Adams gave his address, Meta published a blog highlighting its commitment to privacy.

Image credits: Header image uses elements of NYC campaign and Depositphotos