AT&T weakens Warner's policy on tobacco in films

AT&T's purchase of Time Warner may not be complete until 2019, but the phone giant has already set up a new WarnerMedia division under CEO John Stankey to run Warner Bros. and New Line, Warner Bros. Television and HBO.

In September 2018, we visited WarnerMedia's new web site and noted that Time Warner's 2007 tobacco depictions policy was missing. Had the policy been suspended? After we asked, AT&T posted a revised WarnerMedia policy in late October, 2018.

Much of the language in the old and new policies is the same. But two significant differences may weaken Warner's already porous policy:

1 | Time Warner's prohibition on product placement and other promotional deals with tobacco companies is now limited to films produced or distributed in the U.S.

American film studios already earn most of their revenue outside the U.S. Building ambitious global streaming networks means U.S. studios will produce and distribute even more films and TV shows in markets beyond our borders. Warner appears not to acknowledge that the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (Article 13) bars tobacco placements and payoffs in more than 180 nations and territories.

2 | Time Warner has widened its exceptions for smoking from "historical accuracy" to include "literary accuracy."

Our best guess is that this change pertains to Warner's PG-13 Sherlock Holmes franchise: another installment is due in theaters in December 2020. The first two episodes featured 137 tobacco incidents and delivered 3.5 billion tobacco impressions to domestic moviegoers. Of the thirteen smokers in the two films (including uncredited background actors), only one was named Sherlock.

AT&T had a chance to update Warner's onscreen smoking policy to match Disney's current stringent standard for all its own youth-rated films. Instead, AT&T — a Hollywood newcomer — opened up more potential loopholes.

Warner's policy was already questonable. Since 2005, when it adopted its first tobacco depictions policy, Warner has allowed nearly 1,500 tobacco incidents into 43 percent of its top-grossing PG-13 films — delivering 21 billion tobacco impressions to domestic moviegoers alone, the most of any major studio over this time span.

AT&T claims its WarnerMedia standards reflect "public concerns, industry practices and public health regulations and research in this area as they develop and change over time." If so, it would effectively end tobacco exposure from its future kid-rated entertainment products — and market older, tobacco-contaminated films and TV shows as if kids' lives are at stake. Because they are.


Which studio's "industry practices" are toughest? Compare them here.