Friday, November 27, 2009

Taxpayer Subsidies for US Films with Tobacco

Forty‐one US states and several countries compete for big‐budget Hollywood
film projects by offering valuable public subsidies. In 2008, states offered an
estimated total of $1.4 billion to motion picture producers. On average, individual
states now cover 24 percent of production costs for commercial feature films.
Because an estimated 1.3 million current adolescent smokers in the US
were recruited to smoke by tobacco imagery in films, about 400,000 of whom will
ultimately die from tobacco‐induced diseases, this report estimates the size of recent
public subsidies for youth‐rated (G/PG/PG‐13) films with tobacco imagery. It
explores making tobacco imagery a determinant factor in eligibility for public film
subsidies so that these awards no longer work in contradiction to public health.

A survey of the 147 films released to US theaters in 2008, each among the top
ten box office earners in at least one week, finds two‐thirds of US‐developed, youthrated
film projects with tobacco imagery were filmed in the US, a rate typical of all
films released by US studios over the past decade. Filmed in a dozen states now
offering subsidies, these 35 movies contributed 71 percent of the 11.4 billion
tobacco impressions delivered to US theater audiences by youth‐rated films in 2008.

Based on this film sample and on film industry production cost data, states
awarded an estimated $830 million in public subsidies to films with tobacco, including
$500 million to youth‐rated films with tobacco. For comparison, the states budgeted
$719 million for all tobacco control in 2009. More than half of states subsidizing
films (22/41), including New York and California, spend or earmark more money for
commercial film subsidies than for anti‐tobacco programs. An estimated 60 percent
($830 million/$1.4 billion) of state film subsidies go to smoking films.
To qualify for a subsidy, film projects must meet detailed eligibility standards.
Eligibility rules should be modernized to add two criteria congruent with widely
endorsed policies to reduce the film industry’s role in promoting youth smoking:

• Youth‐rated (G/PG/PG‐13) feature films with any tobacco imagery or
reference will not qualify for subsidy unless, in the judgment of the program
administrator, the tobacco depiction accurately reflects the dangers and
consequences of tobacco use or is necessary to show the smoking of an actual
person or real historical figure, as in a documentary or biographical drama.

• Regardless of rating, producers of films with any tobacco imagery or
reference must warrant in a legally binding manner that no one associated
with the production has received any consideration or entered into any
agreement in regard to the tobacco depiction in that production.
For accountability and transparency, subsidy programs should be required to
make public reports on tobacco status, eligibility determinations and subsidy
awards for individual film projects.