Rambo's heroics turned to ashes

HE IS supposed to be a super-fit muscle man, capable of leaping a yawning chasm in one bound. Yet while Rambo bravely cavorted across the big screen, it seems he was being paid to try to persuade us all to smoke cigarettes.

Documents have come to light in the United States which say that Sylvester Stallone, the multi-millionaire Hollywood action hero, became at least dollars 300,000 ( pounds 200,000) richer under an agreement with a subsidiary of London- based British American Tobacco company to promote its brands in films. And he was not the only one. According to the papers, dollars 40,000 was set aside for a car for Paul Newman's services in Harry & Son.

There is nothing illegal in this. Product placement deals are commonplace in Hollywood, and can be very lucrative. But the revelations have been seized with relish by the anti-smoking lobby, who say they demonstrate the way in which tobacco companies have been trying to wriggle around laws requiring health warnings on cigarette advertisements.

The documents include a letter signed by Stallone in which he agrees to use the company's tobacco products in 'no less than five feature films' - including Rambo - in return for dollars 500,000.

Brown & Williamson, whose products include Kool cigarettes, have responded by saying they halted product placement deals several years ago. But their critics believe the US tobacco industry is still striking deals.

Some of the results appear to have been disappointing. When the tobacco executives sat down to view Body Heat, one of the films covered by the deal, they noted that a Kool poster made three blurred appearances. But the lead characters spent the entire film smoking . . . Marlboros.