Antismoking PSAs to light up DVDs

Six studios agree to use discs to warn kids

The six major studios will begin including antismoking public service announcements in youth-rated DVDs of films that include tobacco use.

Paramount, Sony, Universal, Warner Bros., Fox and Disney will place public service announcements on DVDs of new releases that are rated G, PG and PG-13 under an agreement reached by California health officials, studio reps and the Entertainment Industry Foundation. For the past year, Walt Disney Studios has had its own program of antismoking PSAs, but joined the agreement late Thursday to feature the state-produced spots.

20th Century Fox had been planning a separate effort to feature its own anti-smoking PSAs but also joined with the other studios on Friday, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the pact at a press conference at the Kodak Theater. Also present were state health and human services secretary Kim Belshe, MPAA chief Dan Glickman and Lisa Paulsen, prexy-CEO of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the latter of which has long targeted the glamorization of smoking in films.

“It is historic, the fact that all the studios want to make sure there is appropriate messaging where smoking is depicted,” said Paulsen, reached by phone on Thursday. “It really helps diminish the role of the cigarette in film.”

PSAs will be shown before the DVDs of such movies as “The Incredible Hulk,” “21,” “Leatherheads” and “American Teen,” all of which have scenes of smoking. The public service announcements that will appear were made under the direction of the state’s Tobacco Control Program, and the PSAs will direct viewers to the website, where they can get information on quitting.

The agreements with the studios run through 2009, and the Entertainment Industry Foundation is paying associated talent costs for 21 months for the use of the ads. The first spot, “Icons,” will appear on Sony’s DVD release of “21,” which goes on sale on July 22. The ad contrasts the tobacco industry’s images of a cowboy, hip-hop DJ and twenties-era flapper to that of a dying male smoker in a wheelchair.

Antismoking advocates have long lobbied Hollywood studios to curb the depictions of smoking onscreen and, in recent years, have achieved some success in at least making the industry aware of the kind of messages they are sending when characters light up. Last year, the MPAA announced that it would start taking into consideration all depictions of smoking in its ratings classifications, after limiting such judgments only to illegal teen tobacco use.

But some health advocates are pressing for even more stringent guidelines and have been ever more critical of summer blockbusters that feature characters who puff away. The American Medical Assn. Alliance last month complained of “unnecessary smoking” in “Hulk,” in which a villain played by William Hurt is almost always shown with a cigar, and have called for an R rating on any film with “irresponsible or gratuitous tobacco images.” Universal, which distributed the pic, said that it put a parental advisory in ad materials.

The EIF has not been part of efforts to ban the depiction of smoking in movies or to press for the MPAA on ratings classifications. But it has led initiatives to educate filmmakers on depictions of smoking in movies. The EIF, the Motion Picture & Television Fund and the Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plan also led an industry smoking cessation program called Picture Quitting. And in May, under a program sponsored by EIF, the American Cancer Society and the Will Rogers Institute, exhibitors started running a quit-smoking PSA starring Eugene Levy in theaters.

California officials also would like exhibitors to adopt the state’s program of PSAs. Mark Horton, the state’s director of the department of public health, sent a letter to National CineMedia to urge the exhibition ad firm to donate time to run the PSAs in theaters before movies that depict smoking.

Paulsen said they encountered no resistance from the studios, but it took months to bring the parties together and to draw up the deals.

“They were all incredibly supportive and felt it was the important thing to do and the right thing to do,” she said.

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