Smoke-Free Movies

To protect kids’ health, As You Sow is targeting Hollywood studios that produce movies containing tobacco imagery. The Surgeon General has found that 18% of youth smoking is caused by exposure to smoking in youth-rated movies, and that an R-rating for movies with smoking would prevent the premature deaths of 1,000,000 kids alive today. We are pressing the Hollywood studios to take responsibility for this epidemic.

Disney Takes Important Step Towards Eliminating Smoking from Youth-Rated Movies

After pressure from investors, studio prohibits smoking depictions in Disney-produced films with G, PG, and PG-13 Ratings

The Walt Disney Company has become the first major Hollywood studio to prohibit cigarette smoking depictions in films they produce with youth ratings. The company’s new policy will limit smoking depictions to films with an R rating, a move the U.S. Surgeon General has said could save the lives of over 1,000,000 children if the entire industry followed suit. The new policy covers all films that Disney produces, but disappointingly does not extend to films the company distributes.

Read our full statement

Disney is showing their leadership by taking action on the Surgeon General and CDC report by implementing a policy with direct impact on this public health crisis. The next critical step will be to publicly endorse an MPAA policy to require an R rating for all films depicting smoking.

A coalition of investors, including As You Sow and faith-based shareholders Trinity Health and Sisters of St. Francis (part of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility) have engaged in dialogue with Disney and other studios on the issue of tobacco impressions in films for over a decade.

In 2012, the US Surgeon General concluded, “There is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.” In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded: “Giving an R rating to movies with smoking would be expected to reduce the number of teen smokers by nearly one in five (18%) and prevent one million deaths from smoking among children alive today.”

Recent News

In a First, Shareholders Vote on Tobacco Depictions in Movies with Proposal at Time Warner

U.S. Surgeon General: Stronger Policies Could Save 1,000,000 Lives

Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros. movie studio, has become the first company to hold a shareholder vote on smoking in movies. The resolution was submitted by As You Sow and non-profit healthcare provider Trinity Health.

Read our full statement

A 2012 U.S. Surgeon General report concluded that “there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.” Based on a subsequent 2014 Surgeon General report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded in 2014: “Giving an R-rating to future movies with smoking would… prevent one million [1,000,000] deaths from smoking among children alive today.”

At the recent Walt Disney annual meeting, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that Disney would prohibit smoking in all future films. Disney is the first major movie studio to make such a public announcement, although the language of the policy has not yet been released.

“[M]ore companies will follow the example of Disney,” said newly-appointed U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, at his swearing-in ceremony in April. “We could save over a million children from premature death if every film studio followed suit.”

Take Action - Tell Time Warner to Take Smoking Out of Youth-Rated Movies

TAKE ACTION

Add your name today to urge Time Warner to take smoking out of youth-rated movies!

Shareholders Call for Movie Studios to Address 1,000,000 Deaths

In September, As You Sow and other shareholder advocacy organizations announced that we were filing shareholder resolutions with the major movie studios regarding the portrayal of tobacco in youth-rated films. The movie studios continue to deliver millions of tobacco impressions to minors each year, despite the findings of the 2012 US Surgeon General report, which concluded that “there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.” In 2014 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote that: “Giving an R rating to future movies with smoking would be expected to reduce the number of teen smokers by nearly one in five (18%) and prevent one million [1,000,000] deaths from smoking among children alive today.”

Shareholders are concerned that this data, and the publicity it has received, put the movie studios’ reputation at risk, and could hurt the companies’ long-term profitability. In September, As You Sow filed resolutions with Walt Disney and Viacom (parent company of Paramount Pictures). Resolutions were filed in December at Comcast (parent of NBC Universal) and Time Warner (parent of Warner Bros.). The resolutions at 20th Century Fox and Lion’s Gate Entertainment will be filed in spring 2015.

Disney and Viacom appealed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that the shareholder resolutions not be voted on. The filers of the resolutions (As You Sow, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, and Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order) filed a counter-brief with the SEC. Despite the fact that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the country, and scientific literature demonstrates that 18% of youth smoking is caused by exposure to smoking in youth-rated movies, the SEC did not believe that the issue was significant enough to warrant a response from the company. Comcast and Time Warner have not yet challenged the resolutions that they received. (Read the SEC decision, and the briefs submitted by all parties here).

Between 2005 and 2012, dialogues between Hollywood studios and shareholders resulted in each of the major studios creating and adopting smoking in youth-rated movies policies regarding the oversight of tobacco portrayal in film. However, independent data shows that the number of tobacco impressions that each studio delivers to youth each year is inconsistent, demonstrating that the policies are ineffective.

Shareholders want to maximize long-term profitability. Now that the Surgeon General’s report has publicized the fact that smoking in films will cause the deaths of 1,000,000 kids that are alive today, the studios must act to preserve their reputations, and demonstrate to shareholders that they will not ignore a crisis.

New York Times – Advocacy Groups Challenge Studios Over Smoking in Youth Rated Movies

In the Sept. 30, 2014 edition, the New York Times highlighted our Smoke-Free Movies shareholder resolutions with Hollywood studios.

The major media companies are coming under renewed attack by a group of faith-based shareholders who say they want more progress in limiting the cigarette smoking that young people see in movies.

At the urging of advocacy groups concerned about the power of movies to encourage young people to try cigarettes, Hollywood over the last decade has sharply reduced the amount of smoking imagery in youth-rated films. But the Motion Picture Association of America has resisted calls to give an automatic R rating to any movie that depicts smoking, citing the need for artistic license.

In response, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the advocacy organization As You Sow have decided to step up the pressure by filing shareholder resolutions with the parent companies of the six major movie studios. “We think we’ve given the movie studios enough time,” said Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, one of the advocates leading the effort.

Advocacy Groups Challenge Studios Over Smoking in Youth-Rated Movies


New York Times

Shareholders Challenge Major Hollywood Studios to Account for 1,000,000 Smoking Deaths

Surgeon General and CDC Directly Link Smoking in Movies to Youth Initiation that Could be Eliminated with an R Rating

Milwaukee, WI – Sept. 26, 2014 – Today faith-based shareholders, who are part of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and the shareholder advocacy organization As You Sow, filed shareholder resolutions with The Walt Disney Company and Viacom (parent of Paramount) asking the Hollywood movie studios to respond to the Surgeon General and CDC report that an R rating of films with smoking imagery could save 1,000,000 lives.

The landmark 2012 US Surgeon General report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults concluded, “There is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people… An MPAA policy to give films with smoking an adult (R) rating…could eliminate…and reduce the exposure of youth to smoking in movies.”

Read the full press release

Surgeon General 50th Anniversary Smoking Report Links Hollywood to Youth Deaths

Removing smoking from youth rated movies can save over a million lives every year

Oakland, CA – Jan. 17 2014 – The 50th anniversary Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, released today, called on Hollywood movie studios to eliminate images of smoking from youth rated movies, saying that doing so, “…could have a significant effect on preventing youth from becoming tobacco users and could save over a million lives.” Implementing this policy by modernizing the movie ratings system to give these films an R rating would, according to the report, reduce youth smoking by 18% and reduce smoking deaths significantly.

In January 1964 the ninth Surgeon General, Dr. Luther Terry, laid the foundation for tobacco control efforts in the U.S. with the first Report on Smoking and Health. Through the efforts of tobacco control professionals, advocates, and researchers the work has continued to move forward with clean indoor air laws, taxes that increased the price of tobacco products, warning labels, and the elimination of TV advertising. “Thanks to the television broadcast ad ban, movies remain the most important mass media channel addicting kids to cigarettes,” says Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow.

Read the full press release

Background

The Problem

Exposure to onscreen smoking in movies is the single largest factor promoting youth smoking in the United States, accounting for about 44% of all new smokers.

The CDC says that giving an R rating to future movies with smoking would be expected to reduce the number of teen smokers by nearly one in five (18%) and prevent one million deaths from smoking among children alive today.

In 2012, the Surgeon General released a report titled Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, which directly linked depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among youth. This was followed by a letter from 38 state and territorial Attorneys General requesting that movie studios avoid depicting tobacco imagery to youth.

Unfortunately, in the face of strong signals from the highest health and legal authorities in the country, smoking depictions in youth-friendly films has begun to increase. This is not a coincidence as the tobacco industry is keen to securing smoking imagery and targeting a younger generation.

The Initiative

The goal of the Smoke Free Movies initiative is to convince movie producers to not only develop policies on smoking depictions in films for youth but to uphold them to the fullest extent.

In 2005, As You Sow joined a coalition of shareholder advocates and partners to create pressure on movie producers to take smoking out of youth rated films. From 2005 to 2010, we decreased smoking depictions in youth rated films.

However, despite our efforts and the self-policing done by corporate responsibility team allies within the movie industry, the problem persists. Youth-rated exposure to smoking in films doubled from 2010 to 2011, mainly because they are coming out in the most popular films that cause the highest level of exposure. 2012’s James Bond installment “Skyfall” ( 2012) delivered 1.2 billion tobacco impressions to theater audiences in the U.S. and UK alone, with an estimated 300 million delivered to children and adults. And unfortunately youth films on the 2013 docket will likely have more smoking depictions than those in 2012.

Objectives

  • Hold two dialogue meetings a year with major publicly-traded movie studios including parent companies of Warner Brothers, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and Disney.
  • In collaboration with our shareholder allies, develop a new resolution to be filled in late 2013 with all major publicly-traded movie studios.
  • File shareholder resolutions with those studios. The resolution will ask that the companies take steps to implement the Surgeon General’s recommendations by voluntarily rating “R” (or its equivalent) all movies, DVDs, and TV productions depicting smoking and report to shareholders on progress in achieving this goal.

2017 Shareholder Engagements