Who bankrolls Hollywood’s kid-rated movies with smoking? Today, taxpayers in at least fourteen countries underwrite 20-25% of these films’ production cost with public subsidies, usually tax credits.
Movie studios shop around the world for the biggest subsidy. In 2010, taxpayers handed $800 million to producers of top-grossing movies. $450 million went to Hollywood movies with smoking — and American taxpayers shelled out $288 million (64%) of that.
officials urge film subsidy reform
early 2011, Los Angeles County public health director
Dr. Jonathan Fielding and Dr. Michael Ong, chair of
California's legislature-mandated tobacco oversight
panel, each wrote the California Film Commission asking
that future films with smoking be ineligible for taxpayer
23, 2011 media advisory)
benefit that tobacco-related subsidies for films might
have for California's interstate competitiveness must
be balanced against proven, catastrophic 'collateral
damage' to young audiences and long-term health costs
to the state," Dr. Fielding stated in his letter.
is unconscionable that one state program threatens to
undermine our state's public health achievements and
goals, our investment in tobacco prevention, and our
savings in health care costs, particularly in a time
of declining state revenues," Dr. Ong wrote in
his original letter.
April 2011, Washington State’s Attorney General,
Rob McKenna, petitioned to amend the state’s film
subsidy rules to “provide that productions with
tobacco imagery or reference will not be eligible for
funding.” The AG explained
to the Director of Washington State’s Department
of Commerce: “Any
subsidy of entertainment products that influence kids
to smoke runs counter to Washington State’s own
strong public policy of reducing and preventing youth
Legislature subsequently ended the subsidy program.
Broad consensus to stop subsidizing smoking movies
In July 2011, the US CDC noted that states could “ harmonize their state movie subsidy programs with their tobacco-control programs by limiting eligibility for subsidies to tobacco-free movies.” States face no legal obstacles in specifying what kind of content qualifies for subsidy. Almost all disqualify pornography. California disqualifies animated feature films, wedding videos, reality and news programming, political commercials and more.
Major national organizations have endorsed the CDC recommendation, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, American Public Health Association, and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
state can take direct action against movie smoking
|States subsidizing top-grossing movies with smoking, 2008-10
North Carolina Pennsylvania
Ten states (bold) spent more on these movies than on tobacco prevention programs.
While three dozen states offer millions to movie producers (map), in 2010 some fifteen states subsidized the kind of big-budget movies that deliver more than 90% of tobacco impressions (table). Two-thirds of those states spent more on Hollywood movies with smoking than on their own tobacco prevention programs.
August 2011, a bill to extend California's five-year
film subsidy program (AB 1069) was introduced in the
state legislature. Advised by the California Film Commission
that disqualifying films with tobacco is a legislative
matter, California's Tobacco Education and Research
Oversight Committee (TEROC) acted on the CDC's recommendation
by urging the legislature to amend the bill to make
film and television productions with tobacco content
ineligible for taxpayer support. TEROC told the legislature
and other state policymakers that California had spent
at least $50 million, so far, to subsidize Hollywood
feature films with smoking. TEROC's position on AB 1069:
"Oppose Unless Amended" (letter).
Heart Association, American
Lung Association and American
Cancer Society wrote the bill's author urging him
to amend the bill to make smoking movies ineligible
for subsidies. As of late August 2011, the bill was
still pending in the legislature.
action on film subsidies
British Columbia to Eastern Europe, public health professionals
are calling for film subsidy reform. In fall 2011, the
Health Organization stated that public subsidies
for smoking films are counter to the Framework Convention
on Tobacco Control. ASH UK, the European Network on
Tobacco Prevention and numerous European health experts
submitted a public
comment to a European Commission consultation on
big-budget film subsidies, calling for future productions
with smoking to be made ineligible.
• Download this Action
• Using the term “film incentives” and the name of your state, look for news stories about a program’s start and recent legislative history. Several states are reconsidering the wisdom of film subsidies, while others are recently expanded them. Many programs have sunset clauses and come up for renewal or re-authorization.
• Be aware there are broader controversies about these programs and their economic benefit. While “studies” sponsored by the film industry or the programs themselves announce they are worthwhile, few if any independent analyses do. Bottom-line: No film subsidy is sustainable if it burdens a state or country with long-term health costs from tobacco.
Some non-health sources on film subsidies
California Revenue & Tax Committee Analysis (2011)
Christopherson S, Rightor N (2009) The creative economy as “Big Business”: Evaluating state strategies to lure filmmakers. Journal of Planning Education and Research 29:3;336-352.
National Conference of State Legislatures
New York Times (by Louise Story), As Companies Seek Tax Deals, Governments Pay High Price, December 2, 2012.
Michigan Town Woos Hollywood, but Ends Up With a Bit Part, December 3, 2012.
Film Subsidies from New York Times database.
The Federal Reserve
Countries subsidizing top-grossing movies, 2008-2010
Go Deeper (search on “subsidy”)