RICHMOND, Va. – The nation's largest cigarette maker is asking Hollywood not to put its products on the big screen, citing studies that have shown cinematic portrayals of tobacco use can entice children to smoke.
Richmond-based Philip Morris USA said Wednesday that it will run advertisements in Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and other trade publications imploring moviemakers: "Please Don't Give Our Cigarette Brands a Part in Your Movie."
The ad campaign begins this week and will last several months, Philip Morris spokesman David Sutton said. He said the initiative was conceived after meetings with entertainment industry representatives.
But Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the industry has been unmoved by previous appeals to shield children from smoking scenes.
"Hollywood has ignored the very serious problem that smoking in the movies contributes to youth tobacco use," said Myers, adding that "the problem goes beyond which brands are shown."
Sutton said Philip Morris has long denied all requests for permission to show its brands — including top-selling Marlboro cigarettes — in movies intended for general audiences. However, he acknowledged that moviemakers are not required to seek permission.
Stanton Glantz, head of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco, dismissed the ad campaign as a public relations ploy.
Glantz said that instead of threatening to sue over the use of their brands in movies, Philip Morris officials are saying, "`Aw, shucks, we really wish you wouldn't show our products on screen."'
Glantz, a professor of medicine and leading critic of smoking in movies shown to children, said that even if Philip Morris brands are not shown, the company will benefit from smoking scenes because Marlboro is the leading brand among adolescents.
A study published last year in the medical journal Pediatrics is one of several that have shown that children exposed to smoking in the movies are more likely than their peers to start using tobacco. Philip Morris cites that study and two others in its ads.
Attempts to reach Motion Picture Association of America spokesmen for comment were unsuccessful. However, industry representatives have said that while they don't want to encourage youth smoking, filmmakers' freedom of speech in storytelling must be preserved.
Myers and other anti-smoking activists believe the movie rating system should be amended to require an "R" rating for films that show a lot of tobacco use, which he contended is more damaging to children than scenes containing sex, violence and foul language.
"To the best of my knowledge, nobody's ever died from hearing a four-letter word," Myers said.