Ever wonder how cigarettes got that “glamorous” image? Hint: It wasn’t an accident.


Accidents happen (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

I ran into historian Robert Proctor at the Stanford Humanities Center Book Celebration earlier this month – or rather he ran into me.  I was drinking a glass of red wine to celebrate the fête honoring, among other tomes, An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz when … whoops!

That’s one reason I wear black – I like red wine, and yet tend to be both the perp and target of clumsiness … well, usually the perp.  (In photo at right: that’s moi at the back of the room in the tan jacket – but the blouse was black silk, whew!)  Once I had sopped the wine from my cleavage and neck, I recognized the author of Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, a book the tobacco industry tried to stop with subpoenas and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees – I wrote about it here.

In an exchange of emails afterward, I learned that his book got a very big spread in Le Monde.  Author Proctor, who was the first historian to testify in court against the tobacco industry (in 1998), deserves it.  The link for 25 February article by Stéphane Foucart is here. It’s blogged at Le Monde here.

But I didn’t see a link anywhere for the fascinating sidebar, “Smoking Onscreen Pays Big Dividends.” An excerpt from the French article – my translation is all-too-fallible, but the dollar figures speaks an international language:

You can’t ignore it.  If you saw David Fincher’s screen adaptation of the first part of the Millenium – the trilogy of books by the writer Stieg Larsson – you know that Mikael Blomkvist smokes Marlboro reds. The journalist of integrity, a somber and solitary hero, orders his pack of cigarettes in a bar at the beginning of the film.  How many scenes are like this?  This type of investment is expensive.

In the secret documents from the industry – the “tobacco documents” – we find the agreement struck between Sylvester Stallone and Brown & Williamson in 1983: the actor took $500,000 for smoking several cigarette brands (Pall Mall, Kool, etc.) in his five films. It’s hardly rare.

This will break a few icons:  Paul Newman gets a car worth $42,307 for smoking such mark in The Last Stand (1984). Sean Connery gets $12,175 worth of jewelry to smoke in the James Bond film, Never Say Never (1983), Clint Eastwood gets a $22,000 car to show a particular cigarette in Sudden Impact (1983) … The examples are legion. Often, a studio makes the agreement directly with a brand – $350,000  for that Lark smoked in Licence to Kill (1989). In his book Golden Holocaust, Robert Proctor shows that the film was invaded by the cigarette almost from its inception.

In other words, it’s not an accident that cigarettes acquired a “glamorous” image – and to some extent maintained it decades after the bad news was out.

Glad France is getting the dismal news at last.  I saw a lot of people lighting up in Paris last month.  Those cigarettes cost a lot more than a wad of euros.

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2 Responses to “Ever wonder how cigarettes got that “glamorous” image? Hint: It wasn’t an accident.”

  1. Kim Says:

    I really don’t know what can people get with smoking? I am not saying about those who smoke, but I am just curious. It is said to be dangerous for our health, but what a lot still purchase these? Glamorous image– then after years, will it still be glamorous?

    My blog: prix d’une porte d’entrée 

  2. So Sad Says:

    Truth be told, I always wondered how smokes became synonymous with cool on-screen characters, but the simple thought that the actors were actually paid to light up never crossed my mind. I just thought it was considered normal when the movies were shot. I mean just look at Mad Men, those guys smoke like crazy on that show, and I’m they weren’t paid to do it, it’s just to better portray how the world was back then.