Anti-smoking ads are an adjunct to an R-rating for smoking, to blunt the effects of smoking in the R-rated films that kids see even after smoking has been removed from youth-rated films (G/PG/PG-13) by rating smoking movies "R".
In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, after reviewing the scientific evidence, recommended that anti-tobacco ads be run before movies with smoking. Its conclusion: "The increased risk for smoking initiation as a result of exposure to smoking in the
movies can be reduced by antismoking advertisements..."
Studios will pay no price for this policy at the box office: research shows that seeing an anti-tobacco spot before a film does not change the audience’s willingness to recommend the movie to friends.
The Weinstein Company, an influential New York-based independent producer and distributor, announced that it would start adding Truth® spots to its smoking DVDs with smoking in January 2007 (first title: Clerks II). Disney and Time Warner followed suit in early 2008. In July 2008, the six major studios announced that they had signed agreements ro run spots produced by the State of California on youth-rated DVDs. Disney, Time-Warner and Weinstein and Time Warner continue to include spots on both youth-rated and R-rated DVDs.
Ads need to be in all distribution channels
While it is important for the anti-smoking spots to be on DVDs, they need to be in all distribution channels where kids see films, particularly in theaters and online.
To be effective, anti-tobacco spots cannot be occasional Public Service Announcements shown at theater owners’ discretion. Studios need to include the spots on the feature film reels and digital packages they send to theaters.
Ads for all movie ratings
Anti-tobacco spots help inoculate all audiences, but they are not the whole answer. The R-rating will prevent half of adolescent exposure by clearig tobacco imagery from future G/PG/PG-13 films. Anti-tobacco spots address the other half of exposure that teens now receive — and will continue to receive — from R-rated movies. (Teens see half as many R-rated movies, but these films contain twice as much smoking.)
All the studios should follow Weinstein, Disney and Time Warner’s example and include anti-smoking spots before all films with tobacco, regardless of rating.
How should a spot campaign work?
Spots need to be included in the opening “chapter” on future DVDs, on videos and on-demand viewings. The spots should be rotated often enough to prevent audience fatigue and can be matched to the individual film’s demographics, just like the film trailers (and, increasingly, commercials) that theaters show now.
Most important, the spots must be produced by groups experienced at producing effective ads. Campaigns organizations with no track record of making tested, effective spots might prove as problemmatic as the tobacco company "youth smoking prevention" campaigns that tell teens that smoking is “an adult choice” — making it more attractive. The American Legacy Foundation "truth" and California ads have been demonstrated to be effective, as have many ads produced by the states and available through the US Centers for Disease Control’s Media Campaign Resource Center that the studios could use.
Coming soon to a theater near you?
Studios sometimes claim that theater owners will resist anti-tobacco spots. But “inoculation” spots are such a reasonable idea that theaters in Ohio, Vermont, New York, Ontario (Canada) and Washington, D.C., have already agreed to show them. And nothing stops the studios from stipulating — starting now — that anti-tobacco spots appear on their DVDs globally; before satellite and cable showings of films with smoking; before on-demand viewings; and in broadband streams and downloads.
The studios develop and distribute movies with toxic tobacco content. The studios are responsible for the solution.