Social media platforms should post warning labels, similar to those now used on cigarette packs, for teenagers who are increasingly suffering from mental health issues that are partly tied to the apps, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Monday in an opinion piece in the New York Times. “It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents,” Murthy wrote. The push would be similar to the warnings printed on cigarette packages, which Murthy noted have shown to “increase awareness and change behavior.” However, adding warning labels to social media platforms would require Congress to pass legislation, he noted. 

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Murthy has previously stressed the potential harms that teenagers encounter from social media platforms, pushing last year for stronger guidelines for children and teens amid growing research that indicates the apps pose what he described at the time as a “profound risk” to young people’s mental health. On Monday, Murthy noted that warning labels alone wouldn’t make the platforms safe for kids and said that creating safety measures “remain the priority.”

Congress also needs to implement legislation that will protect young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content, he wrote.”The measures should prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and should restrict the use of features like push notifications, autoplay and infinite scroll, which prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use,” Murthy said.The surgeon general is also recommending that companies be required to share all their data on health effects with independent scientists and the public — which they currently don’t do — and allow independent safety audits.Murthy said schools and parents also need to participate in providing phone-free times and that doctors, nurses and other clinicians should help guide families toward safer practices.

—With reporting by the Associated Press. 

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Aimee Picchi

Aimee Picchi is the associate managing editor for CBS MoneyWatch, where she covers business and personal finance. She previously worked at Bloomberg News and has written for national news outlets including USA Today and Consumer Reports.