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Now Showing Healh Impacts by state How Movies Sell Smoking Amount of smoking in each studio's films Brand Identification Big Tobacco & Hollywood Public vs. Private Statements Fact vs. Fiction

Superman II (1980, Warner Brothers) made good on a deal with Philip Morris to feature Marlboros. Read the deal. Note Clause 4, where the producers agree to edit the film to avoid any negative portrayal of Marlboros.

Explore tobacco in Hollywood's "Golden Age."
In the 1930s and 1940s, tobacco companies gave Hollywood studios national advertising - and got a brand boost when the studios' stars smoked on screen. Popular star Claudette Colbert was paid at least $150,000 (2008 dollars) to advertise Lucky Strike.

"Film is better than any commercial that has been run on television or in any magazine, because the audience is totally unaware of any sponsor involvement."

That's what Hollywood told Big Tobacco as far back as 1972. In a 1982 letter the public relations firm of Cunningham and Walsh outlined cigarette product placement opportunities to its client, Brown & Williamson:

"Recently there have been a number of high-visibility feature films in which one or more of the central characters smoke a particular brand of cigarettes. This has been happening because cigarette manufacturers have been paying for the exposure."

Not only did Philip Morris arrange for Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) to smoke Marlboros, but “Superman II also included a classic fight scene in which Superman and the bad guys throw a Marlboro truck back and forth across Lexington Avenue. This truck was produced solely for the movie and exists nowhere else."

In 1983, Hamish Maxwell, president of Phillip Morris International (and later chairman of Philip Morris Companies, now Altria), highlighted the importance of smoking in the movies in a speech to his marketeers:

"Smoking is being positioned as an unfashionable, as well as unhealthy, custom. We must use every creative means at our disposal to reverse this destructive trend. I do feel heartened at the increasing number of occasions when I go to a movie and see a pack of cigarettes in the hands of the leading lady. This is in sharp contrast to the state of affairs just a few years ago when cigarettes rarely showed up on camera. We must continue to exploit new opportunities to get cigarettes on screen and into the hands of smokers."

Payoffs and coverups

For the last thirty years, tobacco companies have been compelled to report, truthfully, marketing and sales results to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC aggregates the figures to preserve trade secrets, but even a zero can be revealing.

For example, in the FTC’s 2002 annual report to Congress: "Cigarette manufacturers reported that they paid no money or other form of compensation to have any cigarette brand names or tobacco products appear in any motion pictures or television shows. This practice has been reported as unfunded since 1989.” [Emphasis added]

But once-secret tobacco industry documents, recently uncovered by lawsuits, tell a different story…

Philip Morris USA (parent renamed Altria)

From 1978 to 1988, Philip Morris USA used a West Coast consultant and a brand placement firm to supply tobacco products, advertising signage and “fees” to at least 130 Hollywood productions. In 1983, Brown & Williamson was told that Philip Morris budgeted $2 million annually to pay producers. A Philip Morris budget document pegged spending for 1988 at $100,000. In 1991, a note from Philip Morris’ associate general counsel commented: “In the past even Philip Morris USA sought and paid for product placement.” Yet in every one of those years, when the Federal Trade Commission asked Philip Morris USA if it had spent anything to gain product placement, the company said no.

Starting in November 2006, after federal convictions for racketeering and fraud, Philip Morris USA ran ads in the Hollywood trade press asking filmmakers not to use its brands and to keep smoking out of films “directed at youth.” Disingenuous? You decide.

American Tobacco (now part of British American Tobacco)

Between 1984 and 1994, American Tobacco paid a product placement firm upwards of $675,000 to put its brands on screen. The agency claimed that it delivered cigarettes, signage and unspecified “incentives” to nearly five hundred Hollywood film productions.

Yet in 1990, 1991 and 1992, American Tobacco told the FTC that the company “did not pay or agree to pay consideration in money, product, or other form to have its cigarette brand names or tobacco products appear in any motion pictures…”

RJ Reynolds (now part of British American Tobacco)

From 1980 to 1991, RJ Reynolds paid its Hollywood agency up to $200,000 a year, plus expenses, to run its product placement program and other show business projects. In 1990, when Congress turned up the heat on tobacco placement in U.S. movies, Reynolds and its agency sent product placement activities offshore, offering the agency’s London-based affiliate bonuses up to $8,200 for each film in European distribution showing an RJ Reynolds brand.

Yet the Federal Trade Commission reports no RJ Reynolds spending for product placement after 1988.

Brown & Williamson (now part of British American Tobacco)

Brown & Williamson paid its product placement agency as much as $120,000 a year from 1979 to 1984 to put its brands in Hollywood movies and negotiate deals with individual actors. $70,000 was reportedly paid to at least one production. A multi-picture product placement deal was struck with Sylvester Stallone for $500,000. (The deal was later canceled.) In 1983, B&W reported spending a total of $85,000 in the “testimonials and endorsements” category that the FTC used to track product placement.

Hollywood, land of fantasy

Besides “promotional fees,” generous supplies of cigarettes worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars were also handed out to influence film productions. Yet the tobacco companies apparently didn’t report these in-kind transfers to the FTC as a form of payment.

Tobacco companies also inserted clauses in contracts with their Hollywood agencies forbidding product placement in movies targeted at children or teens. Yet more than 30 percent of the titles reportedly supplied by Philip Morris in the 1980s were rated G, PG or PG-13. More than 40 percent of the films supplied by American Tobacco were youth-rated, half of them rated PG.

Do you believe them now?

In 2004, the FTC told Congress: “The companies also reported that in 2002, they did not solicit the appearance of any cigarette product in any motion picture…or grant permission for the appearance of any cigarette product in any motion picture…”

Yet in 2002, 74% of all U.S. movies depicted smoking, including three-quarters of youth-rated movies. Eleven of the biggest box office hits — six of them rated PG-13 — showed particular brands. Big Tobacco lied twenty years ago. Can we believe them now?

To find company documents and published studies on smoking in movies, go deeper.



Note 1. Based on “Special Reports” to the Federal Trade Commission detailing the company’s domestic tobacco marketing. The FTC aggregates this data with that from other companies to profile the industry’s marketing efforts in annual reports to the U.S. Congress. For 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1984, Philip Morris attested “No expenditures were made for endorsements and testimonials during calendar year [X]” directly below the reference to this category, variously called “Item 8 (l)” and “Item 8 (m),” described in this way:

This category includes, but is not limited to, all expenditures made to procure cigarette use, or the mention of a cigarette product or name or package or other representation associated with a cigarette product or company, in any situation (e.g., motion pictures, stage shows, public appearances by a celebrity) where such use, mention, or appearance may come to the attention of the public...

For 1985, 1986, 1987 (specific page), and 1988 Philip Morris reported no “Category L” expenditures (the “endorsements and testimonial” category):

(24) CAT-L-EXPENSES…This item includes, but is not limited to, all expenditures made to procure cigarette use, or the mention of a cigarette product or company name, or the appearance of a cigarette product or name, or package, in any situation (e.g., motion pictures, stage shows,public appearance by a celebrity) where such use, mention or appearance may come to the attention of the public. [Back to text]

Note 2. Based on contracts and other communications between American Tobacco and Unique Product Placement, Inc. (later UPP Entertainment Marketing) for 1982 ($25,000), 1983 ($27,500), 1984 ($30,000), 1985 ($34,000), 1986 ($40,000), 1987 ($45,000), 1988 ($50,000), 1989 ($55,000), 1990 ($60,000), 1991 ($67,500), 1992 ($67,500), 1993 ($67,500), and 1994 ($67,500; additional reference), as well as $29,000 (Value of “Props, product…promotion/incentives”) and $12,000 (value of “Props, Materials, etc.”). Total amount cited in text does not include any estimate of value of tobacco products ordered sent to UPP and recorded as supplied to motion picture productions (numerous references available). [Back to text]

Note 3. See ATCO UPP Film List 1984-94 compiled from an extensive but incomplete UPP report to American Tobacco; half a dozen other quarterly and annual lists reported by UPP to its client; and numerous other “feature memos,” “results memos” and “monthly updates” from UPP through April, 1994. Total does not include 36 titles mentioned as having been supplied by UPP but whose release could not be confirmed in the motion picture database IMDbPro. The spreadsheet includes year of actual release, title when released, and MPAA age-classification rating. [Back to text]

Note 4. In American Tobacco’s “Special Report” answer to Item #6, a specific question from the federal Trade Commission concerning product placement for 1990, 1991, and 1992. [Back to text]

Note 5. Based on “activity reports” and contractual agreements between RJ Reynolds and Rogers & Cowan for 1980, 1981, 1986 ( “continues to retain”), 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991. [Back to text]

Note 6. Two “consulting agreements” between RJ Reynolds Tobacco International and Rogers & Cowan International for May 1, 1990-December 31, 1991 and January 2, 1992-December 31, 1992. [Back to text]

Note 7. The Federal Trade Commission told Congress in 2002, “No expenditures had been reported in this category [“endorsements and testimonials”] since 1988.” We infer from this statement that neither RJ Reynolds nor any other tobacco company posted expenditures in this category in their special reports to the FTC for the years after 1988, although RJ Reynolds was paying Rogers & Cowan to obtain placement for its brands into 1991 (in the U.S.) and 1992 (in Europe), and American Tobacco operated its product placement program through UPP into the spring of 1994. (Federal Trade Commission Cigarette Report for 2000 (issued 2002), p. 5) [Back to text]

Note 8. Amount Brown & Williamson paid Associated Film Promotions. In November 1980, thirteen cases of Brown & Williamson cigarettes are ordered shipped to AFP to “be used in the promotion of our brands within the motion picture industry.” A November 1982, agreement between Brown & Williamson and Associated Film Promotions specifies on p. 11 that on January 1, 1983, it will supersede an agreement regarding product placement in movies which the two companies had entered into in July, 1979. Letter terminates AFP’s product placement activities as of March 1984. [Back to text]

Note 9. $70,000 payment proposed in a letter from AFP to Brown & Williamson was reported to have occurred. After a disappointing result, Brown & Williamson discusses “make-goods.” “Where a star actually smokes our brands in a manner clearly visible to viewers,” Brown & Williamson considers payments of $100-$250,000 per movie. [Back to text]

Note 10. Philip Morris responds to a series of questions from the FTC by supplying a schedule that, among other things, estimates the value of tobacco products it supplied to individual film productions in the late 1980s. Attorneys for American Tobacco answer a Congressional investigator’s question about the value of Lucky Strikes supplied to Beverly Hills Cop — more than $5,000 wholesale. [Back to text]

Note 11. “Philip Morris Product Placement: Guidelines and procedures” (1989); a typical American Tobacco example (1982). [Back to text]

Note 12. Calculated based on MPAA age-classification data for listed movies. [Back to text]

Note 13. Calculated using MPAA age-classifications for all releases implicated in product placement by UPP described in Note 4. [Back to text]

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