LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co. on Wednesday became the first major Hollywood studio to ban depictions of smoking, saying there would be no smoking in its family-oriented, Disney-branded films and it would "discourage" it in films distributed by its Touchstone and Miramax labels.
Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger also said in a letter to U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, whose committee last month held hearings on the effects of movie images on children, that the studio would place anti-smoking public service announcements on DVDs of any future films that feature cigarette smoking.
He said the company would encourage theater owners to screen anti-smoking public service announcements, or PSAs, before such films.
Iger cautioned that "cigarette smoking is a unique problem and this PSA effort is not a precedent for any other issue."
Markey described Disney's commitment as "groundbreaking" and urged other studios to follow suit.
Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, commended Disney's move but said the studio left "some ambiguity about what would happen in relation to Touchstone and Miramax."
Research cited by American Legacy, a nonprofit created from landmark litigation between the tobacco industry and states attorneys general, children with the highest exposure to smoking in movies were nearly three times more likely to start smoking.
Tobacco is featured in three-quarters of G, PG and PG-13 rated movies and 90 percent of R-rated movies, the studies showed.
Seth Oster, executive vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the move to marginalize smoking in movies "very clearly demonstrates the film industry is committed to playing a role in reducing the impact of tobacco on kids in this country."
The Weinstein Co., an independent film production company, is using PSAs produced by American Legacy ahead of its films that depict smoking, Healton said.
Universal Studios, owned by General Electric, said in April that it would reduce the portrayal of smoking in films rated for PG-13 and younger audiences. No such films have been produced since the statement.
"We feel it's important to use our influence to help stem a serious health problem in the United States and around the world," said Ron Meyer, president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios. "We believe it's possible to do that while respecting filmmakers' creative choices and we are committed to partnering with them in this effort."