Smoking in Film Case Study

The Issue

Since 1990, our policy has been to decline all third-party requests for payment, product samples or permission to use or display our cigarette brands in any movies, television shows, video games or other public entertainment media. The Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reinforced this policy in 1998. It strictly prohibits participating manufacturers from paying for product placement in movies, television shows, other performances or video games.1

Our position is clear – we do not want our brands or brand imagery depicted in movies, television shows, video games or other public entertainment media. When our brands appear in movies, it may lead viewers to erroneously believe that we pay for or encourage product placement. This simply is not the case.

Research suggests that exposure to cigarette smoking and tobacco in movies may have an impact on youth attitudes and behaviors related to smoking, and consequently, can increase their risk of starting smoking.2

Unfortunately, the fact that we don't engage in product placement does not mean that our brands don’t appear in movies. Some producers and directors depict our brands in their work without our permission. But we’re limited in our ability to stop them. Federal and state trademark laws, as well as the U.S. Constitution, protect freedom of expression and the "fair use" of trademarks in works such as movies and television shows.

Producers, directors and others involved in the creative process are in a unique position to voluntarily eliminate smoking scenes in movies and other entertainment media directed at youth, and we encourage them to do so.

A major National Cancer Institute (2008) review of the literature related to media communications in tobacco promotion and tobacco control concluded that, "The total weight of evidence from cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental studies indicates a causal relationship between exposure to movie smoking depictions and youth smoking initiation (p. 357)." 3


The Stakeholders

In 2004, we expanded our efforts to reduce smoking scenes in all entertainment programming intended for youth and to discourage the use of our brand imagery in all entertainment programming.

From 2004 through 2006, we met with more than 20 people and groups in the entertainment industry. They included entertainment industry trade organizations, Screen Actors Guild leaders, health advocacy organizations, producers, directors, writers and actors. 


What We Heard

There was little awareness among the entertainment industry about our product placement policy, the cigarette industry's MSA restrictions and the impact that depicting smoking in film has on youth smoking. We sought their voluntary cooperation to eliminate smoking in movies directed at youth. 


How We Responded

In 2006 and 2007, we placed two print advertisements in entertainment industry trade publications. The first was intended to raise awareness of our position on product placement and the second encouraged the industry to eliminate smoking scenes in movies directed at youth.

In addition, in 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) shared more information for parents on the issue of smoking in films. We support the MPAA's decision. Throughout 2007, we talked with major motion picture studios, two minor motion picture studios as well as several key film festivals and trade associations to continue the discussion on eliminating smoking and tobacco use in movies directed at youth.

In 2008, we contacted major and minor motion picture studios to reiterate our policies and positions and to encourage them to take additional steps to eliminate smoking scenes in movies directed at youth. We also held a roundtable discussion with directors, producers and film makers at an independent film festival on product placement and the impact of smoking and brand imagery on youth.

On several occasions, the California Attorney General has told us that one of our brands was depicted in a film. In these situations, we contacted the respective studio executives and asked them to remove our brands from current and future productions and promotional materials. We continue this practice today.

As an example, in 2013, we learned that the movie "RUSH" featured Marlboro brand imagery in the historical context of a Formula One race. We contacted the film's production company and said that we were concerned about the use of these images. At our request, the production company took several steps to reduce the Marlboro brand’s visibility in the film's promotional materials (e.g., the movie’s promotional website). It also added disclaimers making it clear that we didn’t sponsor the film.





1 The Master Settlement Agreement creates some exceptions to this rule, for media that are not intended to be distributed to the public or are intended to be viewed in Adult-Only Facilities or for instructional media for adult smokers regarding non-conventional cigarettes.

2 Pechmann, Cornelia and Chuan-Fong Shih. "Smoking scenes in movies and antismoking advertisements before movies: Effects on youth." Journal of Marketing 63 (July 1999): 1-13

3 National Cancer Institute. 2008. Monograph 19, The Role Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use.

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