March 13, 2015

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Disney CEO Robert Iger announces "ironclad" policy of no smoking in youth-rated Disney movies

Yesterday (March 12, 2015) Dr. Gina Intinarelli, a cardiothoracic nurse from UCSF and I attended the Walt Disney Corp.  annual meeting.   During the question and answer period, Gina told Disney CEO and Chairman of the Board Robert Iger of the thousands of patients with heart disease and cancer she had care for, that virtually all of these people started smoking as kids, and that the US Surgeon General had concluded that exposure to smoking onscreen caused kids to start smoking.  She pointed out that nearly half of the Marvel movies (Disney owns Marvel) had contained smoking.  She then asked Mr. Iger for if Disney would implement an “ironclad” policy of keeping smoking.
 
Iger responded definitively.  Here is how it was reported in The Guardian:
 

Walt Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said he would “absolutely prohibit” smoking in all Disney films going forward, including those produced by the studio’s wholly owned comic-book-movie division, Marvel Studios, and Star Wars unit Lucasfilm.
 
“I thought it was the right thing for us to do,” said Iger, who was responding to a query from an investor. “We are extending our policy to prohibit smoking in movies across the board: Marvel, Lucas, Pixar and Disney films,” he said. “Except when we are depicting a historical figure who may have smoked at the time. For instance, we’ve been doing a movie on Abraham Lincoln, he was a smoker, and we would consider that acceptable.
 
“But in terms of any new characters that are created for any of those films, under any of those labels, we will absolutely prohibit smoking in any of those films.”

 
I was the next person to question Mr. Iger.  I thanked him, but pointed out that the policy on Disney’s website (which dates from 2007) contained loopholes for “creative necessity” and that many Disney films in recent years (but not last year) included smoking.  He said that this decision had been made in the last 48 hours and that the policy on Disney’s website would be updated accordingly.
 
If the actual policy is written as unequivocally as Iger’s statement yesterday, this is a huge step forward and a major contribution to preventing millions of deaths worldwide.
 
I then went on and told Mr. Iger that the CDC has reported that an R rating for smoking would save a million US kids lives and asked him if Disney would follow up its policy by using its position as one of the 6 companies that comprise the board of and control the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) if it would public urge other media companies to follow its lead and support an R rating for smoking. 
 
He responded that he would not tell other companies what to do and that Disney  has no control over the rating of individual films and that the rating system was independently managed . 
 
I responded that I was not talking about Disney controlling ratings of individual films but rather changing the MPAA’s rules that it uses to rate individual films on the grounds that the MPAA board makes MPAA policy.
 
He responded that we should be talking to the MPAA.  It told him that there had been several meetings  by health groups with the MPAA, and that the MPAA told them to work with the studios.   It pointed out that we had a situation in which the MPAA was telling us to talk to the studios and the studios were point to the MPAA, leaving no one to solve the problem, but that the MPAA board (which consists of the 6 major studios) had the authority to solve the problem.
 
Mr. Iger also questioned Disney’s lawyer (who sits on the MPAA board) as well as Alan Horn (head of Walt Disney Studios) about these arrangements. 
 

Here is how Hollywood Reporter reported the exchange:
 
Iger was called on to reiterate his pledge of not showing characters smoking on TV or in movies except where necessary for historical accuracy, though one shareholder asked him to go further by asking the MPAA to give an R-rating to movies that include smoking and to rally other studios to support such a measure. 
Iger said it would be "a little presumptuous" to tell other studios what to do or to tell the MPAA how it should rate movies. The shareholder noted that he had spoken to the MPAA about his idea, and the MPAA told him to speak to the studios, so he was now getting the runaround.
"I think the MPAA is kind of talking out of both sides of its mouth, and the result is a million kids are going to die unnecessarily," said the shareholder.

 
While we did not win a commitment to push the MPAA, I do think that this exchange did inform both Mr. Iger, as well as Disney’s senior management and full board, about the MPAA’s behavior and the fact that the MPAA was pushing us on to the studios.   Perhaps this exchange will lead to some changes in the future.
 
Overall, a good day.
 
I also want to thank As You Sow and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility for working with us over the years to press all the studios on the smoking issue.  Their work (including pursuing several shareholder resolutions), made an important contribution to this step.  They also obtained proxies (from  Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and Trinity Health) so Gina and I could attend the meeting.
 
Here is some of the press coverage:
 
The Guardian
The Wrap
Variety
Hollywood Reporter
MSN.com
 
 
 

Comments

Comment: 

It's worth carefully reading what Disney CEO Bob Iger and their General Counsel said about smoking in movies and the MPAA at their annual meeting:
 
<strong;The Walt Disney Company Annual Meeting, San Francisco, March 12, 2015</strong;
Official audio recording available at http://edge.media-server.com/m/p/uvuz3kf4";http://edge.media-server.com/....
&nbsp;
(Time 53 min: 12 sec) <strong;Gina Intinarelli</strong;: My name is Gina [Intinarelli-]Shuler. I’m a shareholder, I live in San Francisco, I’m also a critical care nurse. I’ve been a nurse for 25 years and I have taken care of thousands of patients who have died of tobacco-related diseases. &nbsp;We know that the Surgeon General produced a report in 2012 that showed conclusively that if children are exposed to smoking images in movies it will cause them to begin smoking.&nbsp; Any of us who have known smokers or have known people that have died from smoking know that they started when they were young.&nbsp; Disney has a policy to discourage smoking in youth rated films, but between 2008 and 2013 about 9% of all smoking images shown to children were from Disney studios.&nbsp; However, in 2014 and so far this year there have been no smoking images in any Disney films [applause]. &nbsp;This shows a commitment to real corporate responsibility to children’s future health.&nbsp; However, [for Disney’s] Marvel studios, you may not know, 43% of their youth rated movies show smoking. <strong;<em;So, Mr. Iger, I ask if you will be willing to change the world and commit to an iron-clad policy that your PG13 and youth rated films never show smoking in them. </em;</strong;
&nbsp;
<strong;Robert Iger</strong;: Well, the answer to that is “yes.” I will commit to that, we are extending our policy to prohibit smoking in movies across the board, Marvel, Lucas, Pixar, Disney films, except when we are depicting an historical figure who may have smoked at the time of his life. So for instance, if we were doing a movie on Abraham Lincoln, he was a smoker, then we would consider that acceptable. But in terms of any new characters that are created under any of those labels we would absolutely prohibit smoking in any of those films.
&nbsp;
(intervening question)
&nbsp;
(time 58 min: 58 sec) <strong;Stanton Glantz</strong;: My name is Stanton Glantz. I’m a Professor of Medicine at UC San Francisco and have been working on the issue of smoking in the movies for a long time. I’d first like to thank you for the unequivocal statement about getting smoking out of youth rated films that Disney produces and distributes. &nbsp;I would point out that the policy that you have on your website isn’t as strong as what you just said and would hope that you would see that they are brought into sync.&nbsp; My question is:&nbsp; The CDC has estimated that an R rating for smoking in movies would save a million kids’ lives among kids alive today in the United States, <strong;<em;will Disney take a public position in support of an industry-wide standard of an R rating for smoking and use its seat on the MPAA to push for an industry-wide level playing field policy that would essentially institutionalize the policy that you just outlined, since we do&nbsp; think an exception for actual historical figures who actually smoked is appropriate?</em;</strong;
&nbsp;
<strong;Iger</strong;: First of all, I will make sure that the policy that is described on our website reflects the policy that I just articulated.&nbsp; The policy that I articulated was amended within the last 48 hours, actually it would be broader than the policy that we had because I thought it was the right thing for us to do.
&nbsp;
We are a member of the MPAA, however, we don’t get involved in how the MPAA applies ratings to films. &nbsp;They do that independent of us and occasionally we lobby with them on how they’ve rated some of our films but we certainly don’t get involved in how they rate the films of other studios nor do we really try to influence what the policies are of the other studios that we compete with.&nbsp; We just like to think that we have a responsibility to shareholders of the company and to customers around the world and we like to behave in a very, very responsible way in that regard as evidenced by the policy that I outlined.&nbsp; So I doubt that you are going to get much support from us on lobbying the MPAA to put an R rating on films that have smoking.&nbsp; &nbsp;I think it would be a little bit presumptuous of me to commit to doing that today without getting a little bit more of a flavor or perspective on the dynamic that exists at the MPAA on the subject. I’m just not well versed in that. I don’t know what positions the other studios have even taken about this.
&nbsp;
<strong;Glantz</strong;: We have had meetings with the MPAA and they’ve told us to go to the studios because it’s the studios that sit on the [MPAA] board and make the policies. &nbsp;So the MPAA actually is why I’m asking you this question, because the MPAA has told a wide range of health groups and representatives and groups like the American&nbsp; Academy of Pediatrics that it is really up to the studios to make the policy and the MPAA is just implementing the policies that the six studios on the board establish.&nbsp; So it’s a little bit back and forth.
&nbsp;
<strong;Iger</strong;: I think there might be nuance there.&nbsp; It’s up to the studios to make policy regarding their own standards and the films that they create as I describe for Disney. &nbsp;I don’t believe it’s up to the studios to set ratings policy for the MPAA. &nbsp;They determine how they apply ratings independent really of even the six board members that sit on the MPAA. &nbsp;I’ll inquire to see if I am accurate in that regard. &nbsp;Alan &nbsp;[Braverman, Disney General &nbsp;Counsel]&nbsp; …
&nbsp;
<strong;Glantz</strong;: The board doesn’t rate [individual] movies but the rules for rating, the policies that are implemented in the ratings, the MPAA has told us, are determined by the board of directors of the MPAA and then implemented by the MPAA.
&nbsp;
<strong;Iger</strong;: Our General Counsel Alan Braverman is here and he is one of our representatives on the MPAA board.&nbsp; Alan, you have a microphone …
&nbsp;
<strong;Alan Braverman</strong;: It’s a separate group than the MPAA board.&nbsp; It’s a separate group that administers the ratings in an independent fashion. I think the best way to close out this conversation is to take the point to the group that administers the ratings because there is a dynamic that goes on within that group and the purpose of that rating organization was to set up an entity independent of the studios to apply a series of ratings to the studio productions so that studios were not engaged themselves in self-rating their own content.
&nbsp;
<strong;Iger</strong;: We will make sure that we communicate at least to the board of the MPAA that this came up at our shareholders meeting and you brought it up.
&nbsp;
<strong;Glantz</strong;: I’d appreciate an opportunity later for some more detailed discussions because I think the MPAA is talking out of both sides of its mouth and the result is that a million kids are going to die unnecessarily.
&nbsp;
<strong;Iger</strong;: It’s a serious issue, I agree with you.

Comment: 

At the shareholders' meeting, Mr. Iger said, "we are extending our policy to prohibit smoking in movies across the board, Marvel, Lucas, Pixar, Disney films...".&nbsp; This list does not include Touchstone, which is the Disney brand that has released most of the Disney movies with smoking.
&nbsp;
First, we need to clarify whether this was just an inadvertent omission and that the policy will include <em;all </em;Disney brands (i.e., across the board) or whether it just applies to the bands that Iger listed.&nbsp; Hopefully it will be the former.
&nbsp;
Second, we need to clarify that the policy applies to all films that Disney <em;distributes</em;, not just the films that it produces.&nbsp; This is a loophole that several other studios have hidden behind.&nbsp; Again, hopefully "across the board" includes these films, too.
&nbsp;
These issues should be resolved in the formal published policy when Disney makes it available.
&nbsp;
&nbsp;

Comment: 

<img alt="" src="/sites/tobacco.ucsf.edu/files/u9/Gina%2BMickey%2BStan.jpeg" width="799" height="571" /;

Comment: 

After the exchange between Professor Stanton Glantz and Disney CEO Bob Iger in which Mr. Iger said that the studios did not control MPAA ratings policy, the four health groups that last met with the MPAA wrote Iger confirming to him that the MPAA had said that the studios are the policymakers.&nbsp; The MPAA just implements the policy.
&nbsp;
Disney, along with the 5 other major studios, make up the MPAA Board of Directors.
&nbsp;
Here is their/sites/tobacco.ucsf.edu/files/u9/Disney%20Group%20Letter%20Final%20SIGS%203.18.15.pdf" target="_blank"; letter:
&nbsp;
March 18, 2015
&nbsp;
&nbsp;
Robert Iger
Chairman and CEO
The Walt Disney Company
500 S Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91505
&nbsp;
&nbsp;
Dear Mr. Iger,
&nbsp;
As public health organizations committed to reducing tobacco use we thank you for strengthening Disney’s smoke-free movies policy. In America, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death resulting in 480,000 premature deaths a year.&nbsp;
&nbsp;
Disney’s actions are an important step to help prevent millions of teens from beginning to smoke. In 2012 the United States Surgeon General concluded that exposure to onscreen smoking causes young people to start smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention subsequently concluded that an R rating for movies featuring smoking would be expected to reduce the number of teen smokers by nearly twenty percent preventing one million deaths from smoking among children alive today.
&nbsp;
While we are delighted by Disney’s actions, eliminating smoking in youth rated movies is a policy that should be adopted industry-wide.&nbsp; In fact, our organizations have repeatedly advocated that youth rated movies should be rated R unless the movie clearly and unambiguously reflects the dangers and consequences of smoking or if it accurately depicts the behavior of an actual, historical figure.&nbsp; We have had discussions with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but have been told repeatedly that it will not act without direction from the studios.&nbsp; Since data indicate that individual movie company policies alone have not been shown to be efficient in minimizing smoking in movies, we hope Disney can take a leadership role within the MPAA to move it towards a rating system that prohibits smoking in youth rated movies.
&nbsp;
We appreciate Disney’s leadership on this issue and we welcome collaboration to encourage other studios to eliminate on-screen smoking and tobacco use as a cause of youth smoking.
&nbsp;
Sincerely,
&nbsp;
JONATHAN D. KLEIN, MD, MPH, FAAP
Associate Executive Director and Director, Julius B Richmond Center
American Academy of Pediatrics
&nbsp;
HAROLD P. WIMMER
National President and CEO
American Lung Association
&nbsp;
MATTHEW L. MYERS
President
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
&nbsp;
ROBIN KOVAL
President and CEO
Legacy

Comment: 

Even better than a ratings change, would be for bans on manufacturing, selling, and giving away tobacco products.&nbsp; That would follow 19th century precedent before the focus changed to weak anti-tobacco actions.&nbsp; States such as Iowa, http://medicolegal.tripod.com/iowalaw1897.htm";http://medicolegal.tripod... , Tennessee, http://medicolegal.tripod.com/iowalaw1897.htm";http://medicolegal.tripod..., and Michigan, http://medicolegal.tripod.com/iowalaw1897.htm";http://medicolegal.tripod... banned cigarettes in this way.
State action occurred when Congress refused to act against tobacco.&nbsp; It had been asked years before, when in 1892, Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) members during the&nbsp;<a name="wctu1892"; 1879-1898 tenure of Francis Willard, M.S., M.A., LL.D., sent to Congress thousands of petitions for banning cigarettes, citing the already then-known fact that cigarettes were&nbsp;"causing insanity and death to thousands" of people.

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