Will Disney stay smokefree after inhaling Fox?

Mouse plus fox

In December 2017, Disney announced that it would buy 21st Century Fox's film studio and some TV divisions. While the deal may not close for another year, both Wall Street and public health experts are asking what Disney will look like after the Fox deal.

Why is this a public health an issue? Because Disney has a tough no-smoking policy for kid-rated movies, but Fox does not. For some years, Disney has kept all of its own kid-rated movies smokefree, but has also distributed some PG-13 DreamWorks films with smoking. Since that distribution agreement expired in 2016, Disney's film slate has been 100% smokefree. Meanwhile, Fox's kid-rated movies continue to smoke.

Problem #1 | After the acquisition, will Disney keep Fox as a separate film label, with looser smoking rules? Or will Disney's smokefree policy that now covers all of Disney, including its Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar labels, also extend to future, kid-rated Fox films?

Problem #2 | Fox has released 150 films with smoking, of all ratings, since 2002. Disney is sure to monetize this film library, streaming Fox films on its own platforms or licensing them to others. Will Disney's marketing machine expose millions of more kids to onscreen smoking worldwide? Or will Disney run proven-effective anti-tobacco ads before Fox films with smoking in all distribution channels?

Disney can choose to safeguard young audiences or put them at risk. Staying true to Disney's current standards will take planning, which needs to start now. A Fox executive recently told The New York Times: "They are not acquiring Fox to turn it into some form of PG [rated] company."

That's okay — so long as future Disney and Fox films and TV shows accessible to kids are tobacco-free.