Studio to discourage cigarette use in films

Disney has made a commitment to Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, that it will discourage depictions of cigarette smoking in its movies.

Mouse House will also place an antismoking PSA on DVDs of any future film that does depict smoking, as well as work with theater owners to encourage the exhibition of an antismoking PSA before the theatrical exhibition of any such film.

In a letter sent to Markey, Disney prexy-CEO Robert Iger wrote, “The Walt Disney Co. shares your concern regarding deaths due to cigarette smoking. We discourage depictions of cigarette smoking in Disney, Touchstone and Miramax films. In particular, we expect that depictions of cigarette smoking in future Disney-branded films will be nonexistent.”

Iger’s letter comes in the wake of a hearing Markey held last month, when he pressed studios to eliminate tobacco brand imagery in movies and participate in antismoking PSAs. At that hearing, MPAA topper Dan Glickman promised to try to get studio heads to respond directly to Markey.

While Iger was careful not to promise to end smoking in Disney movies and to include in his letter the caveat that “cigarette smoking is a unique problem and this PSA effort is not a precedent for any other issue,” experts hailed the move. At a Media Institute luncheon on Wednesday focused on government regulation of commercial speech, Mary Engle of the Federal Trade Commission said it was “good corporate responsibility” for Disney to take such a step.

Disney should be “commended,” added Angela Campbell, a Georgetown U. law professor who has written about deceptive advertising aimed at children.

Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Assn. of National Advertisers, which has sometimes chafed under government efforts to limit commercial speech, said, “Self-regulation is fine if it’s really self-regulation. It’s only a First Amendment issue when it’s forced.”

“Disney’s decision to take a stand against smoking is groundbreaking, and I commend CEO Bob Iger for this important commitment. Now it’s time for other media companies to similarly kick the habit and follow Disney’s lead,” said Markey.

In a policy effective for films commencing principal photography on or after April 16, 2007, Universal Pictures has also undertaken efforts to reduce depictions of tobacco smoking in its films that are rated for a youth audience.

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