October 3, 2017
To the Chief Executive Officers of Comcast Corporation, Sony Corporation, Time Warner Inc., Twenty-First Century Fox Inc., and Viacom Inc.,
Re: Investor Statement on Tobacco Depictions in Movies
The undersigned investors (collectively representing more than $64 billion in assets under management) are writing to urge your companies to eliminate tobacco depictions in youth-rated movies. We believe this is warranted to protect the companies’ reputation and consumer base and to avoid legal liabilities. As investors we are concerned by the reputational and potential financial risks due to each company being associated with this public health issue.
Scientific Consensus of Harm
Smoking tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing an estimated 443,000 Americans each year. One billion lives are at stake in the battle against tobacco addiction worldwide in this century, and the World Health Organization describes it as the most devastating, but preventable, epidemic of our time.
According to the landmark U.S. Surgeon General report in 2012, smoking in movies accounts for about 44% of all new smokers. The report concluded that an R-rating for future movies depicting smoking would reduce the number of teen smokers in the U.S. by nearly 18%. This reduction would prevent one million smoking-related deaths among American youth alive today.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization support the Surgeon General’s recommendation.
Thirty-eight State Attorneys General also acted on the Surgeon General’s report by writing to the major studios urging elimination of tobacco depictions in youth-rated movies: “Given the scientific evidence… the [movie] industry cannot justify failing to eliminate smoking from youth-rated movies… each time the industry releases another movie that depicts smoking, it does so with the full knowledge of the harm it will bring children who watch it.”
Article 13 of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first global health treaty, to which 180 nations and territories are now parties, calls for strong national measures to end exposure of children and adolescents to tobacco promotion in entertainment media.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) also provide an incentive for media companies to address tobacco depictions in movies. The SDGs were created in 2015 by 190 world leaders to protect human health, end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. The U.S. Council for International Business notes that the SDGs create “a tremendous opportunity for the private sector to demonstrate the central role it plays in sustainable development and human prosperity”. SDG Goal 3 is: “To ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” Goal 3 includes the target: “Strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate.” The movie industry is a global business with U.S. movie companies dominating the global market, including economically developing countries. Tobacco use is increasing globally, particularly in the developing world. Eliminating tobacco depictions in youth-rated movies is a tremendous opportunity for the movie industry to accelerate sustainable development across the entire globe by preventing tens of millions of preventable deaths from tobacco-related illness.
Currents Policies Are Inadequate to Protect Youth
By 2013, all major movie studios or their parent companies had adopted individual tobacco depiction policies which discourage, but do not formally eliminate, smoking in their youth-rated movies (see chart below). Sizeable loopholes in these policies, such as allowing smoking for “creative” reasons, have prevented smoking incidents in PG-13 films from falling below the low, industry-wide levels seen in 2010.
Disney, which leads the industry in reducing tobacco impressions, strengthened its policy in 2015 to “prohibit smoking in movies across the board [in] Marvel, Lucas, Pixar [and] Disney films.” Even Disney’s policy is not comprehensive; it still allows smoking in movies distributed under its Touchstone label, most recently used to market DreamWorks productions.
Among the major studios, Sony ranks as the most dangerous to youth: 44 percent of Sony’s youth-rated movies from 2013 to 2016 feature smoking. Lionsgate follows with 41 percent of youth-rated movies showing tobacco use. By comparison, Disney and Disney-owned labels showed tobacco use in 12% of their movies (across all ratings) over the past five years. All other major studios featured tobacco in 28-38% of their movies in that timeframe — at least double that of Disney.