Policy | State Attorneys General & US film industry

TIME LINE

2003 | In August, twenty-five Attorneys General write the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) expressing concern about the growth of smoking in the movies and its effect on teens.

We are hopeful that you will use your best efforts...to rally the motion picture industry from being a source of the problem to being recognized as a critically important force in solving [it]. Read letter

In December, researchers briefed film studio and other film industry representatives about adolescents' dose-response to on-screen smoking. The researchers concluded that 'the scientific evidence that we have now is strong enough to warrant substantial policy change' by the US film industry, including an R-rating for future films with tobacco imagery.

2004 | In May, US Senators John Ensign (R-NV), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and George Allen (R-VA) joined a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on movie smoking's effect on young audiences. Witnesses included LeVar Burton from the Director's Guild, Dartmouth Medical School professor Madeline Dalton, UCSF professor Stanton Glantz, and MPAA president Jack Valenti.

I am anxious to work with you [Mr. Valenti], but the ball is in the industry's court and we have got to see progress. — US Senator Wyden Read hearing transcript

2005 | In November, thirty-two AGs write the film companies, urging them to eliminate tobacco brand display, reduce youth exposure to on-screen smoking, and show anti-tobacco spots before films with smoking on DVDs. Read letter

In December, the MPAA gives the AGs a noncommittal reply. Read letter

2006 | In September, forty-one AGs again ask the film companies to run strong anti-tobacco ads before their movies with smoking on DVDs and other in-home media formats. The AGs offer to arrange use of Legacy truth® spots — but only The Weinstein Company, which is not an MPAA member, agrees. Read letter

In October, MPAA president Dan Glickman tells AGs that the MPAA has invited policy recommendations from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Glickman states his objective:

...to gain consensus among the member companies of MPAA on Harvard's pending recommendations, and then begin implementation. Read letter

2007 | In late February, Harvard School of Public Health dean Barry R. Bloom and his colleagues present their evidence-based recommendations to the MPAA, major studios, theater owners, the Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild. The presentations' 'bottom line':

Take substantive and effective action to eliminate the depiction of tobacco smoking from films accessible to children and youths, and take leadership and credit for doing so. Don't ignore the issue or put a fig leaf on it, like a descriptor on DVDs, that would be the equivalent of the tobacco industry cynically putting smoking warnings on cigarette packages... Read Harvard presentations

In March, the annual ShoWest theater owners convention, primed for a major film ratings announcement, heard this, instead, from the MPAA's Glickman:

The issue of smoking in films is one that many in our industry have been focused on for some time...None of our member companies accept money for the promotion of tobacco products in film. This is a continuing process. And, we are actively considering ways we can make an even greater and appropriate contribution that reflects the concerns of parents and others, while preserving the creative freedoms that are the heart and soul of American cinema. Read speech

On 3 April, Harvard makes public the presentations it had made to the MPAA in late February.

On 1 May 2007, thirty-two AGs follow up with another letter to the MPAA, studios and guilds 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...We urge you to fulfill your commitment to implement the HSPH recommendation that studios eliminate the depiction of tobacco use from films accessible to children and youth. There is simply no justification for further delay. Read letter

On 10 May, the MPAA announces via press release that it will 'consider' tobacco imagery in the ratings, starting immediately. However, it does not bind itself to take any particular action after reviewing films with smoking. Read MPAA communications

The American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Legacy Foundation, and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids denounce the MPAA's announcement as inadequate. See ad

On 5 June, thirty-two AGs inform the MPAA that they are 'withholding judgment' on the effectiveness of the MPAA’s plan. They request more specific information about the plan and how it is being implemented. Read letter 

On 22 June, three senior US Senators — Richard Durbin (D-IL), Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) — tell the MPAA of their 'disappointment' with the ratings announcement:

We are concerned that the MPAA's adoption of a highly subjective policy is not enough to curb the influence of smoking in the movies on the health of children. Read letter

On 19 July, Vermont AG William Sorrell, on behalf of thirty-two other state AGs, proposes a meeting with the MPAA in late September — if the MPAA delivers the rating and smoking content information that the AGs requested in June by 3 September. Read letter

By 14 September, the MPAA had not delivered the requested information to the AGs. Gen. Sorrell calls off the meeting:

The Attorneys General sought this information in order to understand the basis for the MPAA statistics, and to develop a meaningful baseline against which to evaluate the impact of the new rating system. Your office has explained that this information is not available. Read letter

2008 | In March, AGs commended Time Warner and its Warner Bros. studio for certifying no tobacco pay-offs in the end-credits of films with smoking and for adding strong anti-tobacco spots to its DVDs with smoking. Read letter

In September, after the California attorney general reports that Marlboro brand cigarettes appeared in recent top-grossing films, Altria (Philip Morris USA) writes DreamWorks and requests that it 'remove any and all displays of Phillip Morris USA's brands and products' from its films. The California AG's office has long monitored brand display and follows up with both film studios and tobacco companies.

In October, Altria summarized for the AG's office its steps taken since 2003 to discourage display its brands on screen. Marlboro was the most common on-screen brand from 2002 through 2014. Read 2008 letters | Read 2009 letter to Santa Fe Natural Tobacco, a subsidiary of Reynolds American.

2009 | In June, thirty-three AGs write to film companies to report the latest research findings, comment on the tobacco policies that some MPAA member companies have published, and impell them all to take stronger action. Writes Gen. Sorrell:

...I urge all studios to fulfill the Harvard School of Public Health's recommendation that studios eliminate the depiction of tobacco use from films accessible to youth...[I]t is clear that every time the industry releases another movie that depicts smoking, it does so with full knowledge of the deadly harm it will bring to children who watch it. Read letter

In July, the MPAA responds, on behalf of the film companies, by proposing a 'person-to-person' meeting of Gen. Sorrell, MPAA president Glickman and veteran MPAA political operative, Vans Stevenson. The meeting does not occur. Read letter

2012In February, after The New York Times reports that Parliament brand cigarettes were handed out at the annual Golden Globes event sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), trademark holder Altria (Phillip Morris USA) denies it had anything to do with it. The California Attorney General's office follows up with the press association, noting that giving out free cigarettes is against the law.

Please tell us who suggested that you give away cigarettes at the event, and where you obtained the Parliaments that were distributed. Altria...assured us they were not involved in providing the cigarette samples. Who was? Read letter

'Colossal, preventable tragedy' | In May 2012, with smoking on screen on the rise, thirty-eight state Attorneys General write to inform the the film companies that the US Surgeon General has concluded that exposure to on-screen smoking causes young people to smoke.

Calling kids' continuing exposure a 'colossal, preventable tragedy', the AGs again request the film companies to eliminate tobacco depictions in youth-rated movies:

Whether this is accomplished through meaningful, consistently enforced policies adopted by each studio across the industry, or through a change in the way movies are rated, or both, the bottom line is that action needs to be taken, now. Read letter