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State Attorneys General have been urging the film industry to reduce kids’ exposure to smoking on screen. They have been involved in the issue of smoking in the movies since at least the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, which they negotiated with domestic tobacco companies, to end tobacco promotion aimed at young people, including product placement.

The AGs’ concern has grown over the years, along with the scientific evidence that smoking in movies is a major reason that adolescents start to smoke. But the film industry has failed to take any substantial action.

2003 | Twenty-seven Attorneys General wrote the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) expressing concern about the growth of smoking in the movies and its effects on teens.

2005 | Thirty-two AGs wrote the studios urging them to include an anti-smoking ad on any DVD of a movie that included smoking.

2006 | Forty-one AGs again wrote the studios (and MPAA) renewing their call for anti-smoking ads on any DVD or movie that included smoking. To make it easy, they included three Truth® advertisements by the American Legacy Foundation that the studios could use at no cost. Only The Weinstein Company accepted the offer.

October 5, 2006 | MPAA CEO Dan Glickman wrote the Attorneys General that the MPAA had invited recommendations from the Harvard School of Public Health and would work to "gain consensus" among its member studios to implement them.

February 23, 2007 | Consistent with Smoke Free Movies' policy solutions, Harvard recommended that the MPAA "take substantive and effective action to eliminate the depiction of tobacco smoking from films accessible to children and youths..."

May 1, 2007 | Thirty-one AGs followed up with another letter to the studios containing the strongest language to date:

[E]ach time a member of the industry releases another movie that depicts smoking, it does so with the full knowledge of the harm it will bring to children who watch it...

[E]liminate the depiction of tobacco smoking from films accessible to children and youth. There is simply no justification for further delay.

[Read actual letters to Disney, Fox, Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Universal, Warner Bros., Weinstein Company, the MPAA, National Organization of Theatre Owners (NATO), the Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, and Writers Guild.

May 10, 2007 | With much fanfare, the MPAA announces that it will “consider” tobacco imagery in the ratings starting immediately. However, for the goal of eliminating tobacco content in movies accessible to young people, it substitutes another: merely informing parents — the sort of “fig leaf” that Harvard had specifically warned against.

Leading health organizations quickly denounce the MPAA’s placebo policy. They pledge to keep pressing for the “R” rating and other measures that can substantially and permanently reduce adolescent exposure. (The statements from the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Legacy Foundation, and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids were typical.)

June 5, 2007 | Vermont AG William H. Sorrell, a leader amongst a group of 32 state AGs who have pressured the MPAA, writes the MPAA to tell them that:

... we reserve judgement on whether your proposal, which falls short of the recommendations you sought and recieved from the Harvard School of Public Health, will in actual practice have a dramatic impact on the incidence of youth viewing of smoking in the movies. [emphasis added]

Sorrell then asks for prompt reports on the impacts of the MPAA's tobacco rating policy monthly or bimonthly; detail exactly how the MPAA's announced rating policy would have affected treatment of the U.S. film industry's releases over recent years; and explain gross differences between the MPAA's movie smoking statistics and numbers compiled from publicly available sources.

June 18, 2007 | The MPAA responds to Attorney General Sorrell, offering a meeting instead of answering his questions; Sorrell then again asks the MPAA to respond in writing to the questions before any meeting. He requests a written reply by September 3.

August 16, 2007 |The MPAA refuses to answer the Attorney General's questions.

September 16, 2007 | Attorney General Sorrell writes the MPAA's Glickman declining his offer of a meeting because of MPAA's failure to provide "information to help us evaluate the impact of the new MPAA rating system. He also reminds Glickman that, "We had hoped that the MPAA and its member studios would follow the Harvard School of Public Health recommendation [solicited by the MPAA] that depictions of tobacco smoking be eliminated fro films accessible to children and youth."

June 2, 2009 | Attorney General Sorrell sends a letter directly to the CEOs of the major media companies that own the studios, as well as to large independent distributors Lionsgate and Weinstein. He critiques the MPAA's rating failure; cites new evidence that exposure to on-screen smoking causes teens to become addicted smokers; applauds 2008 agreements to show anti-tobacco spots on DVDs with smoking; and recommends one studio's certification of "due diligence affirming that no compensation was received in exchange for any tobacco depiction." General Sorrell again urges all studios to "eliminate the depiction of tobacco use from films accessible to youth."

May 8, 2012 | Thirty-eight state and territorial Attorneys General write the CEOs of the media companies that have no published policy on movie smoking, including News Corp. (Fox), Sony, and Viacom (Paramount). Citing the US Surgeon General's March 2012 report, the state AGs declare the toll from movie smoking "a colossal, preventable tragedy." The specific steps they request companies to take are: to eliminate smoking from future youth-rated movies; add "effective" anti-tobacco spots to movies with smoking, regardless of rating; certify no payoffs for tobacco depictions; and end tobacco brand display on screen. (Press release and sample letter)

Please take a moment to write Attorney Generals who signed the letter; their contact information is here.

Updated: May 10, 2012

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