"We discourage depictions of cigarette smoking in Disney, Touchstone and Miramax films," wrote Robert A. Iger, Disney's president-CEO, in a July 25 letter to Rep. Edward Markey (D.-Mass.). "In particular, we expect that depictions of cigarette smoking in future Disney-branded films will be nonexistent."
Additionally, Mr. Iger wrote, Disney will place an anti-smoking public-service announcement on DVDs of any future film that does depict smoking, and will work with theater owners to encourage showing an anti-smoking PSA "before the theatrical exhibition of any such film."
'My wish up on a star'
Last month, Mr. Markey, chairman of the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, held a hearing focused on the images children see onscreen, and called upon media companies to dissuade children from starting to smoke. In a statement, Mr. Markey said: "We know that the presence of smoking in a movie significantly influences a child's decision to start. This is troubling given the fact that a vast majority of smokers begin smoking before their 18th birthday."
He added: "I am pleased that Disney is embracing a policy that is consistent with the long-term public health of the nation and my wish upon a star is that other studios and theater owners follow suit."
Disney has worked to placate Washington in the past. In fall of 2000, for example, the company known for such kiddie icons as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck said it would voluntarily strengthen its practices in regard to the marketing of R-rated films. No word on what happens to a character like Cruella DeVil, the villainess from "101 Dalmatians" who is rarely seen without her cigarette holder. (And no more like this 1951 Goofy short, "No Smoking.")
The company's announcement came after the Federal Trade Commission issued a report blasting moviemakers and others for willfully aiming adult-oriented fare at younger audiences. Under policies adopted at the time, Disney said ABC would no longer accept ads for R-rated movies before 9 p.m. in both the Eastern and Pacific time zones; said its print advertising, in-theater trailers and film-related Web sites would include supplemental information telling viewers why movies are rated R; and would bar movie theaters from showing trailers for R-rated films before movies branded with the Disney name.
Last fall, Disney unveiled policies aimed at helping thwart child obesity, another cause long taken up by advocacy groups. The policies called for Disney to use its name and characters only on kid-focused products that meet specific guidelines, including limits on calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar. Disney also said it would eliminate added trans fats from food served at its parks by the end of 2007 and from its licensed and promotional products by the end of 2008.