Tobacco companies paid movie stars millions in celebrity endorsement deals

September 25, 2008,

Tobacco companies paid the Hollywood A-listers of the 1930s and 1940s millions of dollars in today's money to endorse particular brands of cigarette, under contract, reveals research in Tobacco Control.

The continued presence of on-screen smoking in today's mainstream films is rooted in these "studio era" deals, claim the authors.

The research team accessed cigarette endorsement contracts between tobacco companies and studio-controlled movie stars, as well as adverts of the period, from university and major US newspaper archives.

The period under investigation covered the years 1927 to 1951, from the advent of talking motion pictures to the rise of television.

In return for the paid testimonials of their stars in cigarette ads major studios benefited from nationwide print and radio ads for themselves and their movies in lucrative "cross over" deals, paid for by tobacco companies, shows the research.

The studios with the most "cross over" deals were Paramount and Warner Bros, with the peak of activity occurring in the early and late 1930s, particularly for Lucky Strike (American Tobacco) and in the 1940s for Chesterfield (Ligget & Myers).

This was despite previous attempts to curtail the practice.

In 1927 the Federal Trade Commission ruled against American Tobacco, prohibiting the use of testimonial endorsements, unless written by the endorser and providing "genuine, authorised, and unbiased" opinions.

And in 1931, the precursor to the Motion Picture Association of America, the MPPDA, banned actor endorsements and on-screen product placement.

But the archived material shows that the studios took advantage of their contracts, which gave them complete control over the use of their celebrities.

They were able to negotiate the content of the testimonials, and insist that the endorsement ads, publicising new movies, coincided with their release to cinemas.

In all, almost 200 actors took part in the cigarette endorsements, including two thirds of the top 50 box office Hollywood stars from the late 1930s through to the 1940s.

Among others, actors Clark Gable, Spencer Tracey, Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Bette Davis, Betty Grable and singer Al Jolson all appeared in endorsements for brands, such as Lucky Strike, Old Gold, Chesterfield, and Camel.

American Tobacco alone paid the stars who endorsed Lucky Strike cigarettes US$ 218,750 in the late 1930s, equivalent to $3.2 million in today's money.

Individual stars earned up to $5,000 per year, equivalent to around $75,000 in today's money.

And in 1946, Ligget & Myers spent the equivalent of $50 million advertising Hollywood, which was more than its brand endorsement partners Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Columbia Pictures combined.

The authors say that smoking in movies is associated with teens and young adults starting to smoke themselves, but its persistent presence in mainstream films is rooted in the mutually beneficial deals between the film and tobacco industries in the 1930s and 1940s.

Source: British Medical Journal

Explore further: E-cigarettes: fresh air or smoke and mirrors?

Related Stories

E-cigarettes: fresh air or smoke and mirrors?

March 10, 2014
On the edge of the SoHo neighborhood downtown, The Henley Vaporium is an intimate hipster hangout with overstuffed chairs, exposed brick, friendly counter help—but no booze.

Recommended for you

Male contraceptive compound stops sperm without affecting hormones

April 20, 2018
A new study published today in the journal PLOS ONE details how a compound called EP055 binds to sperm proteins to significantly slow the overall mobility of the sperm without affecting hormones, making EP055 a potential ...

A dose of empathy may support patients in pain

April 20, 2018
Research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests that empathic, positive messages from doctors may be of small benefit to patients suffering from pain, and improve their satisfaction about the care ...

New research suggests possible link between sudden infant death syndrome and air pollution

April 20, 2018
A study led by the University of Birmingham suggests a possible association between exposure to certain pollutants and an increased risk of so-called 'cot death'.

For heavy lifting, use exoskeletons with caution

April 20, 2018
You can wear an exoskeleton, but it won't turn you into a superhero.

New device to help patients with rare disease access life-saving treatment

April 19, 2018
Patients with a rare medical condition can receive life-saving treatment at the touch of a button thanks to a new device developed by scientists.

Low-cost anti-hookworm drug boosts female farmers' physical fitness

April 19, 2018
Impoverished female farm workers infected with intestinal parasites known as hookworms saw significant improvements in physical fitness when they were treated with a low-cost deworming drug. The benefits were seen even in ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2008
Big deal - it is not like they were endorsing marijuana or some really dangerous drug. Stay away from articles like this - tobacco and alcohol are mainstays of our tax system and their minor and known effects are nothing compared to weed!!!
not rated yet Oct 10, 2008
Lol coco, I can't make my mind up to what you are. A 10yo retard who has just seen an anti-drugs campaign at school, someone working in the pharmacuetical industry or just the sterotypical naive and gulable american. Either way, your points are pretty ridiculous and close minded, much like you'd hear from the 1970s propaganda campaing to scare everyone away from drugs. Maybe you should sample for yourself and make your own mind up instead of assuming whoever gives you your facts is telling the truth.

How about a competetion? I smoke the most potent weed i can find til I drop and you drink liquor til you drop? Bet I'd still be able to work the next day whereas u'd be on ur death-bed feeling like utter crap.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.