Viacom: Request for Report On Public Health Impacts of Smoking in Movies

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WHEREAS: Smoking tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.  

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 [Motion Picture Association of America] policy to give films with smoking an adult (R) rating…could eliminate…and reduce the exposure of youth to smoking in movies.” 

Based on the Surgeon General’s report, in 2014 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded: “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.” 

CDC also concluded: “The data show that individual movie company policies alone have not been shown to be efficient at minimizing smoking in movies. Studios with policies have had more tobacco incidents in 2013 than 2010.” 

Thirty-eight State Attorneys General wrote to the major studios urging elimination of tobacco depictions in youth-rated movies, “Given the scientific evidence...the [film] industry cannot justify failing to eliminate smoking from youth-rated movies...Each time the industry releases another movie that depicts smoking, it does so with the full knowledge of the harm it will bring children who watch it.”  

The American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization support the Surgeon General’s recommendation.  

Viacom’s Paramount studio recognized this significant social issue, adopting a policy in 2013. The company’s youth-rated movies released in 2013 included 80 percent fewer tobacco incidents than in 2010, on average, and audience exposure dropped 90 percent. In 2014, however, Transformers: Age of Extinction (PG-13) delivered 1.7 billion tobacco impressions to Paramount’s domestic audience — nearly as many as all of Paramount youth-rated films in 2010.  

In multiple dialogues, shareholders asked senior management to utilize its membership in MPAA to encourage the organization to support the Surgeon General’s R rating request. However, the MPAA continues to give G, PG, and PG-13 ratings to films containing smoking, consequently risking 1,000,000 lives.  

RESOLVED: Shareholders request that the Board of Directors publish within six months, at reasonable cost and excluding proprietary information, a report on the public health impacts of smoking in all of its movies, including analysis of the company’s exposure to reputational, legal, and financial risk based on the public health impact of smoking in movies identified by the Surgeon General and CDC. This should include all films produced or distributed by the Company.  

SUPPORTING STATEMENT: Shareholders request that company’s report include estimate of attributable smoking deaths from its films, utilizing quantitative metrics generated internally, as well as third-party statistics, including those from the CDC and the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at University of California San Francisco

Resolution Details

Company: Viacom

Co-lead Filers:
As You Sow and Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order

Year: 2018

Filing Date: 
December 2014

Initiative(s): Smoke-Free Movies

Status: Blocked by Company at SEC

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