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Earlier this month, the National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter signed by the AG’s from thirty-eight states to ten movie, TV and media companies. The subject of the letter was the depiction of smoking in movies aimed at kids. The letter was addressed to Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation), with copies to several other executives, including Harvey and Bob Weinstein (The Weinstein Company), Sumner Redstone (Viacom), and Howard Stringer (Sony Corp.).

The letter wasn’t a threat to sue,  at least not an overt one. Several studies were cited about the correlation between youngsters seeing smoking on-screen and becoming smokers themselves, but that’s about it. Not a single statute was cited, or declaration of intent to sue made. It wasnt a cease and desist.  Not exactly.

Well, except maybe this part: “Each time 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. The specific steps outlined above are ones that Twentieth Century Fox can and should immediately adopt. We would appreciate your promptly confirming Twentieth Century Fox’s willingness to adopt the above recommendations and the date by which such recommendations will be implemented.”

Those “recommendations”? Here they are:

  1. Adopt published corporate policies for the elimination of tobacco depictions in youth-rated movies.
  2. Include effective anti-tobacco spots on all future DVDs and Blu-ray videos of its films that depict smoking, regardless of MPAA rating and require similar spots appear before the movie goes on TV or Internet download, as well as encouraging theaters to run the spots too.
  3. Certify in the closing credits of all of its films that have tobacco imagery that “No person or entity associated with the this film received payment or anything of value, or entered into any agreement, in connection with the depiction of tobacco products.”
  4. Keep all future movies free of tobacco brand display, “both packaging and promotional collateral.”

Read the whole letter here:


On the one hand, it’s hard to get too concerned about this letter. Of course we don’t want the films  our kids watch to send the message that smoking is cool. Or drinking. Or violence. The AG’s aren’t saying they’re going to sue anybody. And they do seem to only be talking about movies targeted to kids (presumably G and PG-rated. What about PG-13?), not ALL movies. They’re just looking out for our children’s welfare.

On the other hand, is this censorship? AG’s don’t send a friendly reminder to anybody with one hand unless they’ve got a big stick in the other hand behind their back to whack them with if they don’t comply. What’s the big stick here? And what happens if running  “just say no to cigarettes” spots on the part of the DVD everyone skips isn’t enough? Will the AG’s go to Sony or Viacom and make them edit out any cigarettes that appear on screen?

And does it stop with cigarettes? How about alcohol on screen? Or violence? There’s a scene in “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” (an oldie, but you can get it on DVD…which I did) where Snoopy and Linus have a cartoony fist fight over Linus’s blanket. Will that movie get an “R” now in the name of protecting kids? Going way back, what about Laurel and Hardy or Three Stooges? Probably not a big market these days, but there’s all sorts of comic drinking, fighting and occasionally smoking in those ostensibly family-films. What about them?

But getting back to the point of this letter, smoking on film, I offer an other-other hand (I dragged my wife in here because I ran out of hands): is this really a big deal? Aren’t studios already kind of policing themselves? I can’t remember ANY film my kids have watched that showed or even mentioned a cigarette on screen. Granted, my kids are little and we (thankfully) haven’t gotten into the teenager movies yet. We’re mostly about Smurfs and Muppets and the like at this point. Maybe the movies marketed to teens are different? Would any of this make any difference for them? I don’t know.

What do you think?


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