With The Walt Disney Company poised to acquire hundreds of legacy Disney & Fox films with smoking, investment funds with $556 billion under management ask CEO Robert Iger for assurances that children and teens worldwide will be protected. Click for full media package.

ASTON, Pa., April 25, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Investors have made public a letter sent to Disney CEO Robert Iger before the company’s March 2018 annual meeting in Houston pressing Disney to protect young audiences from exposure to on-screen tobacco when it acquires Fox’s large film library. Fund managers note that future marketing of these films may be affected by the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global health treaty ratified by 181 parties.

In their letter to Mr. Iger, forty-six religious and secular investors organized by Trinity Health and Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia congratulate The Disney Company for its “good faith” in honoring its own tobacco depictions policy. But they warn, “…amid the myriad details involved in a corporate acquisition of this size and complexity, Disney cannot afford to leave young people’s health and lives unprotected." The letter continues:

With the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Article 13, propelling governments worldwide to halt cross-border tobacco promotion in films and television, how will Disney handle Fox’s many tobacco-contaminated film properties?

The letter observes that Fox has released more than 150 top-grossing films with tobacco imagery since 2002, most of them youth-rated PG or PG-13 in the U.S. In addition, many of Fox’s films with smoking that were R-rated in the U.S. are marketed with youth ratings in other countries. Fund managers seek assurances that Disney will take specific steps “in the interests of safeguarding public health”:

(1) If Disney produces new films under Fox labels, adhere them to Disney’s strong smokefree standard.

(2) “Responsibly market” Fox’s legacy films with graphic warnings on packaging, promotional materials and at point-of-purchase, and stipulate to its licensees that a strong anti-smoking PSA must run immediately before the film in any medium, in all markets.

(3) Hold future Disney and Fox video series to Disney’s strong smokefree standard, wherever they are shown.

The investors’ letter and the global tobacco control treaty’s provisions are supported by more than fifteen years of international scientific research establishing that exposure to tobacco on screen causes millions of young people to smoke. In addition, researchers have uncovered decades of documentary evidence of cross-promotion and product placement deals between the U.S. film industry and multi-national tobacco companies.

Top executives of Philip Morris (later Altria) and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (later Fox) served on each other’s boards of directors for twenty-five years, from 1989 to 2013. A 1985 memorandum from the tobacco company’s CEO, discovered in the course of lawsuits against the tobacco company, named Mr. Murdoch as a media proprietor “sympathetic with our position … an ally that we can and should exploit.” [Source]

The Breathe California Onscreen Tobacco Database at UCSF identifies at least 184 Fox-distributed films with tobacco imagery since 2002, including 151 top-grossing films and thirty more films that earned at least $1 million at the domestic box office but did not reach top-grossing status. Altogether, Fox’s films from January 2002 to April 2018 featured more than 5,100 tobacco incidents and delivered at least 33 billion tobacco impressions to domestic moviegoers of all ages.

In 2017, Disney’s films were all smokefree. That same year, twelve of Fox’s films featured tobacco.

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Cathy Rowan, Trinity Health (Livonia, MI): 
Tom McCaney, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia (Aston, PA):