As the children squirmed in their movie-theater seats awaiting the magical animated world of Snow White and her handsome prince, two flesh-and-blood young lovers filled the screen.
The scene enraged parents: the otherwise wholesome romantic moment showed the couple smoking cigarettes. It was an advertisement for Kool cigarettes.
In response to the ad, Action for Children's Televison (ACT), a consumer group primarily involved in children's television programming, plans to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission today to prevent cigarette manufacturers from advertising in theaters during G- and PG-rated movies.
The complaint also asks the FTC to require Brown & Williamson "to retract and correct the impact" of the ads already aired and seen by children.
The ad, which ran last week during the Saturday matinee in a Newton, Mass., theater, "was very warm and friendly--two people in love, you know--one of those slice of life ads," said Peggy Charren, head of ACT.
This type of ad shown in movie theaters is known as a product trailer. The Kool ads, which run for 90 seconds, were distributed to 3,100 movie theaters around the country in early July, a company spokesman said.
The consumer group's action was not prompted simply by the one showing, but because exposure to cigarette ads during other movies might influence children to form a bad habit, Charren said. The complaint urges the commission to stop cigarette manufacturers from taking unfair advantage of "a vulnerable and susceptible audience, one easily influenced and exploited."
These ads violate accepted American public policy as demonstrated by the banning of tobacco commercials on television, FTC studies and other studies, she said. "Public policy mandates discouraging citizens from smoking or encouraging them to quit, not encouraging them to smoke," she said.
"Peddling cigarettes to young moviegoers is the worst kind of unscrupulous advertising," Charren said in a prepared statement.
The Brown & Williamson contract with the movie theater stipulates that the ad should not be shown during G-rated movies and the running of the ad in Newton "was the theater management's mistake," said Mark Ahearn, manager of communications for Brown & Williamson. "We were a little upset ourselves" about the showing of the ad during "Snow White."
Despite the prohibition of the ads running during G-rated movie, the threat still exists to children, Charren said.
"Anybody with any sense knows there are hardly any G-rated movies" and most children flock to PG-rated films. Last week's mistake simply highlights the irresponsibility of both the movie theaters and cigarette manufacturers, she added.
"We feel if you don't say something strong out loud when someone like a cigarette manufacturer finds a way of reaching a young audience, before you know it they'll be back on TV," she said.
Brown & Williamson plans to reconsider its contract, Ahearn said.