Marlboro firm's plea: 'Don't use our cigarettes in films'

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The Independent US

Philip Morris has been vilified, sued and ordered to pay out damages worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the noxious effects of its cigarettes. Now, though, the world's largest tobacco manufacturer has an intriguing new message directed at Hollywood's movie studios - "don't put our cigarettes in your films".

"We do not want our brands or brand imagery depicted in movies and television shows," reads an ad running this week in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and other industry publications. "We appeal to, and encourage, those in the entertainment industry to eliminate depictions of our brands and brand imagery in their work."

The company says it has been moved by recent studies showing that smoking in movies is the number one factor prompting teenagers and young people to take up smoking. The adverts associate the company with a trademarked concept it calls "Youth Smoking Prevention".

Industry critics and anti-smoking advocates, however, think the initiative has a lot more to do with future lawsuit prevention than concern for the welfare of young Americans. Stanton Glantz, head of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco, pointed out that Philip Morris was not threatening Hollywood with any legal action, and that the appeal was essentially hollow.

According to Professor Glantz, Philip Morris's leading brand, Marlboro, has featured in at least 74 of Hollywood's top-grossing films in the past 15 years. Marlboro is also the favourite brand of American teenagers, 52 per cent of whom were moved to take up smoking by seeing it depicted on the big screen, according to the US government's Centres for Disease Control.

The anti-smoking movement has already had a big effect on the movies. Bogart or Bacall would use cigarettes as an adjunct to their sex appeal, but these days smokers are usually villains.

But Hollywood producers insist on their right to include smoking in a film, and have baulked at suggestions that any film with smoking in it should be rated R (meaning anyone under 17 must be accompanied by an adult).