U.S. tobacco industry has a documented record of
secret payola and product placement in Hollywood.
After the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking
and lung cancer, smoking in Hollywood movies started
to lose its glamour. The tobacco companies’ systematic
payoffs, starting in the late 1970s, successfully countered
this effect. More important, despite 1989 assurances
to Congress that Big Tobacco would stop “brand
placement” in movies, smoking in movies
rapidly increased starting around 1990.
deals with producers and studios, once-secret documents
show that tobacco companies have paid to have actors
smoke or to show cigarette and cigar logos. They have
delivered free cigarettes and cigars, even cigarette
machines, to have them used in movies. Less obviously,
they have encouraged production designers and prop people
to set out cigarettes and other smoking paraphenalia.
They have even paid for movie crew jackets, rather than
paying a producer directly.
already deny product placement…
tobacco product placement was specifically barred by
the Master Settlement Agreement between major tobacco
companies and state attorneys general in 1998. But rumors
of “arms length” deals persist, from the
sophisticated to the petty. Among them:
barter deals and “premiums” involving
other media company properties (magazines, TV)
product placement contracts (e.g., for a car brand)
made contingent on displaying a tobacco brand
financing from overseas venture capital partnerships
or routed through offshore entities; credit facilities
and loan guarantees
and house leases during production; subsidized production
services and promotional travel
supplies of cigarettes or cigars (free merchandise
and travel are common Hollywood perks)
so many smoking scenes in movies indistinguishable from
paid product placement, and paid placement of other
products a $1.25 billion business in movies alone, audiences
are justified in suspecting that Hollywood is not doing
for free what it used to do for money.
why not tell the audience so?
way to clear up the mystery? Producers should have no
objection to posting a straightforward certification
in the closing credits of any movie with smoking. Studios
and insurance companies already require producers to
certify that rights to all the material in a movie,
from the story to the soundtrack to brand names, have
been “cleared.” Why are tobacco brands the
a sworn certification would also give producers an incentive
to make sure that everyone on the production team knows
that tobacco industry favors are off-limits, even when
delivered through elaborate “deniable” cut-outs,
the tobacco industry has a history of doing.
would also put all independent and studio producers
on a level playing field, rather than letting the less
scrupulous get away, literally, with murder.
are we now?
In 2008, Time Warner began inserting the following strong and unequivocal language in the end credits of select movies, in theaters and DVD:
No person or entity associated with this film received payment or anything of value, or entered into any agreement, in connection with the depiction of tobacco products.
While it has not disclosed details, Warner Bros. informed Smoke Free Movies that this declaration is backed up by written agreements with partners in its financing, production and distribution chains.
On occasion, General Electric (Universal) has included the following statement in the end credits of recent youth-rated films with smoking:
The depictions of tobacco smoking contained in this film are based solely on artistic consideration and are not intended to promote tobacco consumption. The Surgeon General has determined that there are serious health risks associated with smoking and with secondhand smoke.
Universal’s statement does not deny considerations are involved in tobacco depictions. The text is similar to a statement in the end credits of MGM/UA’s License to Kill (1989), whose producers had secretly been paid $350,000 by Philip Morris’ advertising agency, Leo Burnett, to highlight PM’s Lark brand in the film. That studio, too, saw fit to cite the Surgeon General, perhaps because the US Congress had launched an investigation into tobacco product placement just before the film was released.