Smoking in films: major ad agency says it is a key tobacco industry marketing ploy

Wednesday 18 February 1998

ASH/ Press releases/


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Press release18 February 1998 ASH
Action on Smoking
and Health

Smoking in films: major ad agency says it is a key tobacco industry marketing ploy

Paying for smoking in films is a key strategy for tobacco companiesfacing an advertising ban. ASH asked Britain’s largest advertising agency, AMV BBDO,to conduct a creatives’ ‘brainstorm’ as if they were advising a tobaccocompany facing a ban on advertising – the idea was to assess what techniques would becomeimportant to the industry. In the report of the brainstorm, AMV BBDO says:

Tobacco companies must be very worried about anything that prevents their ability to do product placement (for example payments to film stars or fashion magazines to use their products). This would deny them crucial aspirational role models and eventually render their products invisible. (emphasis in the original)

One notable example of this practice was a deal between the US arm of BAT and SylvestorStallone, in which the actor was paid $500,000 to use their cigarettes in five of hisfilms. The Health Education Authority today releases a survey of smoking in films sincethe early 1990s.

ASH believes that tobacco product placement should be classified as advertising andbanned along with all other tobacco advertising. The European Union Council of Ministershas just agreed the text of a Directive that will ban “any form of commercialcommunication with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting a tobacco product.”- under this definition, tobacco product placement in films should be banned.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH, said: “Advertising smoking through films is cynicalbut effective. Now that tobacco advertising is likely to be banned in Europe, thecigarette companies will increasingly turn to films as a powerful vehicle for sellingtheir product – but this is really just another form of cigarette advertising”.

Not all smoking in films is paid for by the tobacco industry. Some film directors arguethat smoking is part of everyday life and they use it to be realistic. ASH disputes thisargument: films have always shown a highly stylised view of smoking: you never see thedownside of coughing and wheezing, shortness of breath or the terrible diseases that arepart of the real lives of smokers.

“You can’t stop film-makers using smoking as a prop, but you can appeal tothem to recognise the consequences and show some restraint – by encouraging smoking, theymay be carelessly and needlessly contributing to the enormous toll of suffering and deathcaused by smoking. ” said Bates.


Contact Clive Bates, Director (020) 7739 5902
Amanda Sandford, Communications Director (020) 7739 5902

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