Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. is leading 32 states in pressuring the major Hollywood studios to place anti-smoking ads before movies that show smoking.
Mr. Curran yesterday sent a letter, signed by 31 other state attorneys general, to the studios urging them to put public service announcements before movies with smoking segments.
The ads are meant to warn adolescents against the dangers of tobacco, said Mr. Curran, who said he does not plan legal action.
“We’re using our bully pulpit to persuade studio heads, producers and screenwriters to work with us to discourage smoking by children,” he said.
Movie companies were advised in Mr. Curran’s letter to place the ads before the beginning of the movie in theaters and on DVD and other video formats.
“Attorney General Curran is concerned with any activity which harms children,” said spokesman Kevin Enright, when asked if a similar warning should be issued for movies containing violence, sex, alcohol use or fast food.
The letter was sent to New Line Productions Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp., Universal City Studios LLP, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., Walt Disney Co., Miramax Film Corp., DreamWorks LLC, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Representatives for the targeted studios declined to comment or did not return repeated calls for comment.
About 80 percent of current major movies show smoking, according to University of California at San Francisco professor Stanton Glantz, who runs an advocacy group called Smoke Free Movies.
Seven of the films in this week’s top 10 box office list showed smoking, he said.
Smoking, while legal, causes 435,000 premature deaths annually, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal health agency estimated 4,000 American teens, ages 12 to 17, try their first cigarette every day.
Philip Morris USA, a Richmond cigarette manufacturer, has had a policy in place for 15 years to deny requests for brand or product placement in movies and television shows, said spokeswoman Jennifer Golisch.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the major movie studios, said all movies that are submitted for ratings have those ratings displayed on the packaging as well as in all home video products.
“Everybody agrees this is a serious health problem,” said spokesman John Feehery.
Association President and CEO Dan Glickman met with state attorneys general a year ago to discuss “how we could work with them on this important health issue,” Mr. Feehery said.
The anti-smoking push comes a week after the National Cancer Institute released a study that found adolescents who see smoking in movies are more likely to try it.
The study, done by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, studied 6,522 U.S. adolescents, ages 10 to 14. Those who saw smoking in movies were 2.6 times more likely to light up than peers who watched minimal on-screen smoking, the study said.
Mr. Curran said he thought the study would persuade studios and movie theaters to absorb the cost of running the ads before their movies.
Forces International, a Fairfax consumer-advocacy group supporting smokers’ rights, worried the ads would encourage children to stigmatize or discriminate against those using a lawful product.
“We believe that teaching kids to stereotype and label lawful behavior simply because a special-interest group disapproves of it is fundamentally wrong,” said spokesman Norman Kjono. The group said it is funded by member contributions and has no corporate sponsors.
If the movie studios agree to the states’ demands, the American Legacy Foundation is expected to produce the anti-smoking ads.
The Washington nonprofit, anti-smoking group, which is funded by money from the $246 billion tobacco litigation settlement in 1998, estimated it would spend $1 million to $1.5 million to produce five to six 30-second ads.