This isn’t exactly a surprise because Disney had been moving towards this since 2004 and even earlier when Joe Roth ran the movie division. But Disney CEO Bob Iger today issues a dramatic apology and promise to Congress about depicting smoking in Disney-branded movies. Here’s what’s interesting: dis_cruella.gifmy pal Julia Boorstin at CNBC’s Media Money blog reports that Disney made this news public not in Hollywood, but on the national stage. Iger declared his company’s new commitment in a letter to U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), who last month held a congressional hearing on smoking in the media and asked media companies to join the anti-smoking effort. This became a hot button issue this year when the AMA urged the MPAA to give movies with smoking an “R” rating. Now the MPAA says it considers all smoking (not just underage puffing), and especially pervasive and glamorized smoking, in its rating system. Here’s the studio’s corporate announcement today nonetheless:

The Walt Disney Company today made a commitment to U.S. Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, that it will discourage depictions of cigarette smoking in its films and will place an anti-smoking PSA on DVD’s of any future film that does depict smoking.  Further, Disney will work with theater owners to encourage the exhibition of an anti-smoking PSA before the theatrical exhibition of any such film.

In a letter sent to Representative Markey today, Disney President and CEO Robert A. Iger said, “The Walt Disney Company shares your concern regarding deaths due to cigarette smoking. We discourage depictions of cigarette smoking in Disney, Touchstone and Miramax films.  In particular, we expect that depictions of cigarette smoking in future Disney branded films will be non-existent. In response to your suggestion, our Company will place an anti-smoking PSA on DVD’s of any future film that does depict cigarette smoking.”

“Disney’s decision to take a stand against smoking is groundbreaking and I commend CEO Bob Iger for this important commitment.  Now it’s time for other media companies to similarly kick the habit and follow Disney’s lead,” said Representative Markey.

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking has been identified as the most important source of preventable morbidity and premature mortality worldwide. Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 438,000 American lives each year and approximately 90 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21.