Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark has got some pretty bad habits, like drinking too much, sleeping around, and accidentally inventing genocidal artificial intelligence. But one thing he's never going to do is light up a cigarette, says Disney; they will “absolutely prohibit” the depiction of smoking in all Disney films with a PG-13 rating or under, including those made by Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm.
Chairman and CEO Bob Iger reiterated Disney's current policy at a shareholder meeting yesterday (March 12), noting that the only exception is when films depict real-life historical figures who were known for their tobacco habit. “For instance, we’ve been doing a movie on Abraham Lincoln, he was a smoker, and we would consider that acceptable,” he said.
This isn't the first time the Avengers have shied away from cigarettes, of course. When Joe Quesada first stepped up as Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics in 2001, he implemented a similar ban for all the main Marvel characters -- having lost a grandfather to lung cancer, he believed that depicting smoking in comics encouraged the behavior. Issues in the Marvel back catalog remained unchanged, but recently new trade collections have had their cover art altered to reflect the company's anti-smoking policy.
On the left, a 2010 trade hardcover of Chris Clairmont's "Mutant Massacre" X-Men series; on the right, a paperback version of the same collection from 2013, where Wolverine's trademark cigar is gone
"There’s only one [time] I’ve ever said “It’s my way or the highway” and that [was] cigarette smoking," Quesada said in a ten-year retrospective on his career at Marvel in 2011. "I just didn’t want any of it in the books."
To the average viewer it might seem like Quesada and Igor both are overreacting, but many studies on the cultural impact of smoking in movies suggest just the opposite. In a 2012 report, United States Surgeon General Regina Benjamin found that kids aged 10 to 14 are more than twice as likely to try smoking themselves when they've been exposed to a higher rate of smoking in movies, and concluded that limiting the depiction of smoking to R-rated movies would significant reduce the number of teen smokers in America.
Movie studios appear to have taken this message to heart recently -- the Center for Disease Control, who have been monitoring the rate of smoking in movies since 2002, says that while incidents of tobacco on film have increased 41% since 2010, the percentage of PG-13, PG, and G movies is at the lowest it's been in years.
"Disney has always been good on this issue, but this extension into Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm properties is really tremendous," American Legacy Foundation CEO Robin Koval told MTV News over the phone.
Her organization is behind the truth campaign, which first began in 2000 and teaches teenagers about the harmful effects of smoking. "It's very important because we know that almost 20% of kids who will ultimately become smokers and unfortunately die from tobacco is due to smoking in the movies.
"The free advertising that the tobacco industry gets, whether it comes from people posting their own pictures of themselves smoking all the way to major movie releases from Hollywood, all of that has a huge impact on young people and their decision to smoke -- or hopefully, more and more these days, not smoke."
"When our truth campaign first started, 23% of young people smoked," Koval added. "Now 8% do. So this move from Disney really is a big step in getting us to, as we say here, finish it."
Disney began to avoid smoking in their youth-marketed films as early as 2007, but 2014 was the first year that the company went without a single depiction of smoking in any of their new movies. You can find out more about their current policy on their company website.