WASHINGTON — In a meeting with Vice President Al Gore, creative guild leaders promised Wednesday to cease and desist when it comes to glamorizing smoking in movies and television.
“Because of our conversations today, we are one step closer to the day when our movie and television screens are less often smokescreens to the dangers of tobacco,” Gore said after the meeting.
Attending the White House confab were Screen Actors Guild prexy Richard Masur and Directors Guild of America prexy Jack Shea.
Also on hand were “Party of Five” exec producer Chris Keyser; “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” exec producer Paula Hart; fashion model Christy Turlington, representing the American Cancer Society; and Children’s Action Network exec director Jennifer Perry. Writers Guild of America West rep John Romano missed a plane connection and was absent as a result.
The meeting lasted less than half an hour and built on an earlier vow by the guilds to steer kids away from smoking.
Gore insisted Wednesday he was not trying to tell Hollywood creatives how to produce shows. “It’s not Washington’s job to tell authors and artists what to put in their movies and television shows,” said Gore, adding, “We know that we need to turn the tide against the glamorization of smoking. We will reach that goal when each of us takes responsibility for our actions and their effects on the nation’s young people.”
‘No government intervention’
Perry, calling from a Washington restaurant Wednesday evening, said Gore had “stated emphatically that there was to be no government intervention, but that he was just exercising his First Amendment rights to speak out on an issue.”
She said 3,000 teens start smoking every day, and that the habit eventually kills 1,000 of them. “The entertainment industry has a real role to play in communicating those kinds of messages, that if you smoke you may die,” Perry said.
SAG’s Masur and “Five” producer Keyser were en route back to Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon — both were due on sets this morning — and could not be reached for comment, but Masur called his office from National Airport and said the meeting with Gore went well.
“He said the vice president fully understood the position of the creative guilds and was supportive of our efforts,” SAG spokeswoman Katherine Moore, who spoke with Masur, reported later. “It’s about education and awareness within the industry itself.”
Masur, an experienced actor, is on record as saying that many performers, whether they intended to or not, have become role models.
“Sometimes it is necessary to the telling of a story that a character smoke,” Masur told a California Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October. “A plot point may turn on it. A relationship may depend on it. Other times smoking may be a useful tool in helping to define a character as self-destructive, rude, unhealthy, etc.”
But Masur and other Hollywood representatives do not defend cigarettes when their use is arbitrary or gratuitous. Consequently, several industry organizations have joined with the Next Generation California Tobacco Control Alliance to form the Entertainment Industry Working Group, which Masur said is “developing suggestions for the responsible depiction of tobacco use on camera.”
Shea, the DGA president, also was unavailable for comment after the meeting. When he appeared before the same state senate committee with Masur, he said directors must make certain choices “to help audiences form their understanding of a character.”
“In Taylor Hackford’s current film, ‘The Devil’s Advocate,’ starring Al Pacino as the devil, smoking is a continuous metaphor for evil,” Shea said. “This was a creative choice, just one of thousands of creative choices that a director must make while creating a motion picture.”
Nevertheless, he said, “we will do our part to sensitize our members on this issue.”