2. What do entertainment companies have to do with tobacco?
There is scientific consensus that exposure to tobacco in movies causes kid to begin smoking. Learn about the history, research, and company analysis below.
The U.S. and other countries have long tried to halt tobacco promotion to children and adolescents. In 1971, Congress banned tobacco commercials on radio and television. In the 1980s and 1990s, restrictions were negotiated on tobacco advertising in print media and on billboards. Yet depictions of smoking continue in movies and on television. The scientific consensus is that tobacco imagery causes kids to begin smoking.
The history of collaboration between the film and tobacco industries is well-documented, including by the U.S. Surgeon General. From the late 1920s to at least the mid-1990s, tobacco companies paid millions of dollars to place their products in entertainment media accessible to kids. These cross-promotion and product placement deals were in addition to the millions in advertising dollars that tobacco companies paid to the major studios' television production arms and to broadcast networks.
The historic 1998 legal settlement with state Attorneys General (the “Master Settlement Agreement”) barred tobacco companies from paying to place their brands in U.S. movies and TV shows accessible to children and adolescents. Over the past decade, 180 nations and other territories have become parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 13, which commits countries to eliminating tobacco promotion on all media platforms, including film. The United States signed but did not ratify this treaty. No U.S. law or regulation currently bars tobacco product placement in media accessible to children and adolescents. And the Master Settlement Agreement with U.S. tobacco firms does not prevent any film or television producer or distributor in the U.S. from making a promotional deal with a multinational tobacco company or its agents.
In 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General reviewed extensive scientific literature and concluded that exposure to smoking on screen causes kids to smoke. This seminal report concluded that an R-rating for future movies with smoking would lower teen smoking rates by 18 percent and prevent one million tobacco deaths among kids alive today.
In July 2017, CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) noted that “the steady decline in the number of tobacco incidents in youth-rated movies from 2005–2010 stopped after 2010” and re-affirmed the necessity for R-rating movies with smoking. The CDC report, covered in The New York Times, credited investors with helping to reduce tobacco imagery in kid-rated movies.
However, the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group for the major studios that governs the U.S. movie rating system, has repeatedly refused to adopt the R-rating for smoking.
In August 2017, 17 leading U.S. health organizations (including American Cancer Society and medical organizations representing more than 630,000 doctors) demanded that movie producers, distributors and exhibitors apply an R rating to all films that include depictions of smoking or tobacco.
The definition of a “Tobacco Free” entertainment company
- Stipulates in its distribution and licensing agreements that exhibition of any film with tobacco imagery will be preceded by a strong anti-tobacco spot announcement, in all media and in all distribution territories;
- Requires each credited producer of a film with tobacco imagery to file affidavits stating that nobody associated with the film production entered into any agreement in regard to the representation of tobacco in the film;
- Stipulates in all production agreements that the finished film shall not include any tobacco product brand or facsimile;
- Stipulates in all production agreements that there should be no tobacco imagery in any film conceived to be youth-rated, with the possible exception of a film that depicts tobacco use only by an actual historical person (as in a documentary or a biographical drama) or accurately portrays the serious health consequences of tobacco use.
- Further, that the company (if it is an MPAA member), in its role on the governing board of the Motion Picture Association of America, explicitly supports updating the rating and advertising standards and guidelines to assign an R-rating to any film with tobacco imagery, with the possible exceptions stated at (d).
Who is responsible?
Tobacco Free Funds identifies six equities that own major (MPAA-member) movie studios:
- 21st Century Fox (Twentieth Century Fox)
- Comcast (Universal, Focus)
- Disney (Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Touchstone)
- Sony (Sony Pictures, Columbia, Screen Gems)
- Time Warner (Warner Bros., New Line)
- Viacom (Paramount)
In addition, Tobacco Free Funds identifies four equities that own large non-MPAA member studios:
- AMC Entertainment (jointly owns Open Road)
- CBS (CBS Films)
- Lions Gate Entertainment (Lionsgate)
- Regal Entertainment Group (jointly owns Open Road)
Tobacco Free Funds screens could be extended to other industries if scientific research finds that these companies are responsible for recruiting new smokers. When data collection is in place, Tobacco Free Funds may include:
- Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Netflix, whose original productions may feature tobacco imagery and which lack appropriate notifications and safeguards at product selection or point-of-purchase for third-party entertainment products with tobacco imagery.
- Cable and satellite companies such as AT&T, Charter and Comcast without appropriate notifications and safeguards at product selection or point-of-purchase.
- Film exhibitors and video retailers such as AMC, Cinemark, Regal, Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Redbox, Target, and Walmart (Vudu) without appropriate notifications and safeguards at point-of-purchase of entertainment products with tobacco imagery.
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