Cigarette Firms Under Fire for Paid Display in Movies

Times Staff Writer

Tobacco companies that pay to have their cigarettes displayed prominently in major motion pictures--as in “Superman II,” “Supergirl” and the upcoming James Bond movie, “License to Kill"--may be breaking the law if the movies are shown on TV or without a health warning, a congressman charged Monday.

Rep. Thomas Luken (D-Ohio) called the promotional spots in movies, which he said amount to paid advertisement, a violation of congressional bans against cigarette advertisement on television or elsewhere without a health warning by the surgeon general.

Luken, chairman of the House subcommittee on transportation and hazardous materials, said tobacco company Phillip Morris agreed to pay $350,000 to the makers of “License to Kill” to have Lark cigarettes used in the film as one of James Bond’s secret weapons.

“Tobacco companies are on the attack seeking to increase their power and influence while continuing to recruit new addicts to the smoking habit,” Luken said. “These movies reportedly do not carry the surgeon general’s warning (and) the movies are shown on television, which is absolutely prohibited by law.”

A spokesman for Phillip Morris called Luken’s press conference “an attempt to curtail people who make artistic decisions,” and said the “film maker has absolute discretion as to the content of the film and we stand behind that 100%.”


Mary Taylor, director of communications for Phillip Morris, said that in the last 10 years, her company has only paid for movie promotions twice and defended the James Bond deal by saying that the movie is being produced outside the United States and will be distributed internationally.

However, Luken called that argument “the usual evasion” and predicted it would not hold up in court if the case were brought to trial.

Luken said he has written a letter to U. S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh asking him to consider “prosecution of those persons and companies involved in contracting for blatant advertising of cigarettes in movies.”

The letter requests that the attorney general investigate whether federal laws are being broken and to determine what steps, if any, could be taken to stop the activity.

“I believe that paying to have a particular cigarette appear in a movie is in fact an advertisement,” he said in the letter. “I request that you investigate these payments.”

No one at the Justice Department was available for comment on the issue.

The practice of paying for visibility in movies has become fairly common in recent years, most notably in the smash success “E.T.,” where Reese’s Pieces candies were prominently displayed.

But Luken said that deals involving tobacco products violate laws that do not apply to other products. “It is a federal crime to violate any provision of the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertisement Act,” he said.

In “License to Kill,” Luken said, James Bond uses Lark cigarettes as a secret weapon, while a spokesman for the Coalition on Smoking or Health said that “Lois Lane smokes constantly” in the Superman movie.