Sisters of St. Francis and other investors warn of health and business risks as AT&T and Disney acquire youth-rated Warner and Fox movies full of smoking

Investors cite CDC's projection that movies will recruit more than six million U.S. children to smoke

Aston, Pennsylvania, UNITED STATES

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 05, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- With AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner and Disney’s purchase of Fox entertainment assets, AT&T and Disney will be able to add Warner’s and Fox’s film catalogs to their on-demand and other distribution channels.

But in two letters sent to AT&T and to Disney on January 3, 2019, investors representing $76 billion in assets under management caution that Disney, Fox and Warner have released more than 420 top-grossing films contaminated with smoking since 2002. That is the year U.S. researchers first reported that the more smoking kids watch on screen, the more likely they will become smokers.

By 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General had concluded that smoking on screen causes kids to start smoking. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control now projects that movies with smoking will recruit more than six million American children to smoke in this generation. Two million of these recruits will die from smoking.

The investors report that half of all top-grossing PG-13 films released by Disney, Fox and Time Warner since 2002 feature smoking, including 44 percent of Disney's PG-13 films, 58 percent of Fox's PG-13 films (being bought by Disney), and 47 percent of Warner Bros.' PG-13 releases (being bought by AT&T).

According to the Breathe California-UCSF Onscreen Tobacco Database, recent youth-rated films with smoking being readied for global distribution by AT&T and Disney show nearly 800 actors smoking in nearly 6,000 tobacco incidents. These films have already delivered more than 70 billion tobacco impressions to domestic theater audiences. Digital screens of all sizes will deliver even more exposure.

The investors describe the conclusively-established risk to young audiences if these movies are marketed unsafely. But they also note that Disney and AT&T face risks to their own brands, including international marketing restrictions under a global health treaty, potential regulatory backlash, and "catastrophic" legal liabilities on the scale of billions of dollars levied against tobacco companies marketing to young people.

“Our letters list concrete, feasible measures AT&T and Disney can take to protect children’s health as well as shareholders’ interests," said Tom McCaney, Associate Director of Corporate Responsibility for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. "Like smoking itself, onscreen promotion of tobacco use to young people is a documented health hazard. We are offering AT&T and Disney a public opportunity to demonstrate genuine corporate responsibility.”

The investors' letter to Disney notes that the company has been ahead of the Hollywood curve since strengthening its no-smoking policy in 2015. However, Disney has so far failed to provide a substantive response to investors' concerns, first raised in February 2018, about how Disney plans to exploit more than 140 existing Disney and Fox youth-rated films contaminated with tobacco. Fox, which for decades maintained board links to tobacco giant Philip Morris, has more than doubled the amount of smoking in its PG-13 films since Disney announced its intention to buy much of Fox in December 2017.

Since 2002, Time Warner has released nearly as many youth-rated films with smoking as R-rated ones. From 2005 through 2018, under Time Warner's own tobacco depictions policies, 38 percent of the company's youth-rated films included tobacco imagery and delivered 23 billion tobacco impressions to moviegoers of all ages. AT&T's WarnerMedia division adopted Time Warner's tobacco depictions policy with no substantive changes.

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