Any smoking in the movies sells adolescents on tobacco. The largest U.S. tobacco company figured out more than two decades ago that keeping cigarettes on screen, branded or not, was key to the industry’s survival. Yet nothing looks more like paid product placement than high-profile stars waving around specific brands.
There’s no artistic justification for this. In fact, flaunting brands is more distracting than realistic. Do all productions consider brand display innocuous? Of course not. Scarlett Johansen concealed her cigarette pack in Lost in Translation, a movie about an actor shilling for commercial brands. “Generic” packs were made up for Charlize Theron in Monster, in which she played a serial killer.
But Brad Pitt as a free-spirited brawler? See studio publicity photo at right.
Looks like product placement
Tobacco companies claim they have not given movie makers permission to display their brands on screen in years — after paying them for years to do exactly that. Since 1989, when the tobacco industry first promised to stop paying for placement in Hollywood movies, one in ten top-grossing movies has shown leading actors endorsing cigarette brands on the big screen.
It violates the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) for a tobacco company to display its trademarks in venues and entertainment accessible to young people under 18. But the movie studios are not a party to the MSA. And both sides deny that they now cooperate in any way. It just “happens.”
Worth $4 billion in future sales to Big Tobacco
The number of young people recruited to smoke by their exposure to smoking on screen, each year, translates into more than $4 billion in lifetime revenue for the tobacco companies.
The brands most often seen on screen are the most heavily advertised brands favored by beginning smokers, like Marlboro from Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris International (Altria Group). In fact, Philip Morris has appeared in three times more U.S. movies since 1990 than Kevin Bacon.
Tobacco brands are the only brands that show up in commercial movies without a product placement deal or the legal permission required by film production insurance policies. Why the exception? Why the fiction?
Drop tobacco brands now.