Some U.S. DVDs to carry anti-smoking ads

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Six major Hollywood film studios agreed on Friday to place anti-smoking ads on new movie DVDs targeted to children in a bid to counter the influence of tobacco use on screen.

The studios joined forces with California health authorities in what was called an unprecedented agreement to protect children, both in the United States and around the world, from the health risks of smoking.

Under the deal, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Twentieth Century Fox will include anti-smoking advertisements in the opening minutes of DVDs of all new movies with smoking scenes that are rated G, PG and PG-13.

Those ratings are used in the United States to designate a film as being aimed primarily at kids. The anti-smoking commercials, produced by California’s Tobacco Control Program, also will be targeted specifically at children.

The initial ad, called “Icons,” contrasts tobacco industry images of a cowboy, a hip-hop DJ and a 1920s flapper with a dying man in a wheelchair. It will first be seen on the Sony DVD release of “21” -- a PG-13 rated drama about a student casino scam. That DVD hits retail shelves on July 22.

“Placing these ads on DVDs will remind viewers that movies are fiction but the damage smoking does is real,” said Lisa Paulsen, president of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which aims to raise awareness of health and social issues.

Health campaigners have battled with the movie industry for years to reduce smoking on screen, especially in films aimed at the youth market.

Recent research cited by the nonprofit group American Legacy said tobacco was featured in 75 percent of movies rated G, PG and PG-13. Walt Disney last year became the first major Hollywood studio to ban depictions of smoking in its family-oriented Disney-branded films.

California has been at the vanguard of anti-smoking initiatives in the past 15 years. The state banned tobacco advertising billboards near schools in 1991 and outlawed smoking in all indoor public places, including bars, in 1998.

Individual cities in the state have since banned smoking on most beaches, in or near children’s playgrounds and at outdoor restaurants and bars.

Sony Pictures is owned by Sony Corp; Universal Studios is majority-owned by General Electric Co; Warner Bros. by Time Warner Inc; Paramount Pictures by Viacom Inc, Walt Disney Studios by The Walt Disney Co and Twentieth Century Fox by News Corp.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Eric Walsh