Disney will limit smoking in films; loopholes still open

Still from Disney's "Pinocchio"

The Walt Disney Company will limit portrayals of smoking in movies aimed at youth, the company said last week. It says it currently limits these images in movies including those distributed by Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm. 

For years Disney has depicted characters puffing from cigarettes, cigars and pipes. That includes in many Disney Classics, like "Pinocchio," "The Little Mermaid" and "Peter Pan."


A 2012 study by the Surgeon General said that many people who smoke as adults start smoking because they saw it in movies as children. Over a million children could be saved from smoking if other companies joined the Walt Disney Company in controlling smoking in films with G, PG and PG-13 ratings, the surgeon general said. 

Many health advocates see this decision as a step in the right direction. A 2014 study released by the Motion Picture Association of America says the share of moviegoers under 18 has increased.

As You Sow, a social advocacy nonprofit based in Oakland, reached out to six major Hollywood studios about the responsibility they hold in the issue. CEO Andrew Behar says Disney was the first to respond. Disney began implementing smoking restrictions in Disney-branded films in 2007. 

The initiative is only committing to banning cigarettes, said Behar, so they could still show other forms of smoking. 

"They could show cigars, chewing tobacco, they could show e-cigarettes, they could show cigarette brands, so it's not as comprehensive as what we really wanted," Behar said. The restrictions also don't pertain to companies like Touchstone, which has movies distributed by Disney. 

"Its a good first step," Behar said. "They're certainly the leading movie studio taking this seriously."

Behar said they will ask Disney to get rid of the loopholes. "We expect to see the other movie studios step up as well," he said.