Marlboro Man; Bob, I've Got Emphysema

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Marlboro Man; Bob, I've Got Emphysema

Tobacco, Cultural Icon, Recognized as Health Hazard


By: Robert Landau

Date: 1976

Source: Marlboro Cigarettes Billboard. Corbis Stock Photography Image. 1976.

About the Photographer: Robert Landau, the photographer who captured the famed Marlboro Man on a Pacific Outdoor billboard set against an urban Los Angeles streetscape, is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts. Among his favorite subjects is his native Los Angeles, which he has been photographing for nearly a quarter of a century. Museums and art galleries around the world have displayed his photographic work, and he is the author of two best-selling books of his work: Billboard Art and Outrageous L. A., both published by Chronicle Books. He has traveled the globe extensively, and has photographed luminaries, dignitaries, and heads of countries.


By: Scott Houston

Date: 2000

Source: Bob, I've Got Emphysema. Corbis Stock Photography Image. 2000.

About the Photographer: Professional photographer Scott Houston took this Marlboro Man look-alike image for the Tobacco Control Section of the California Department of Health Services anti-smoking campaign in 2000.


Tobacco and cigarette smoking has been as much a cultural practice as a personal habit and addiction for millions of people across the globe. For many years, it was glamorized in film, print media, television, and signage (billboard and poster advertisements) across the United States and around the world. Long after the first speculations—and even after clinical research indicated definitive proof—that tobacco use was deleterious to health, it remained a cultural norm. Even after the data indicated that second-hand smoke also was deadly, the social norm remained. Cultural icons, such as movie stars and international royalty, were all identified with cigarette smoking—often even with specific brands. Viewers of American cinema associated such legendary figures as Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Mae West, the members of the Rat Pack, James Dean, and John Wayne with cigarette smoking. Indeed, it seems impossible to envision the creation of a pictorial or visual history of contemporary global culture without many images of pipes, cigars, and cigarettes.

Cigarette smoking, in particular, was glamorized in American popular culture during at least the first half of the twentieth century. In posters and advertising campaigns for both World War I and World War II, brave, rugged, handsome soldiers were portrayed with cigarettes dangling form their mouths. In the 1920s, women first began to be shown by the media as cigarette smokers. These and other similar images were interpreted as testaments to the strength and freedom inherent in America. In the mid-twentieth century, things began to change. In 1957, Reader's Digest published an article suggesting a link between smoking and lung cancer. In 1964, the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health was published, in which a relationship was first made explicit between smoking and health hazards. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, progressively more legislation designed to restrict advertising for cigarettes and other tobacco products was enacted, with a particular emphasis on discouraging youth from starting to smoke cigarettes.

No other American brand of cigarettes has had as successful and universal an iconic symbol as the Marlboro Man. The Marlboro Man was first introduced in 1955 in a series of ads featuring men engaged in a variety of occupations, all of whom had tattoos on their hands, wrists, or forearms. A Philip Morris Marlboro advertisement read: "Man-sized taste of honest tobacco comes full through. Smooth-drawing filter feels right in your mouth. Works fine but doesn't get in the way. Modern Flip-top box keeps every cigarette firm and fresh until you smoke it." The advertising campaign achieved unprecedented success: within eight months of the appearance of the Marlboro Man, sales had increased by 5,000 percent. Public response to each of the male characters in the ads was measured, and the cowboy was found to be overwhelmingly favored. For the next forty years, the Marlboro icon was the cowboy. Philip Morris never used actors or models in their Marlboro Man advertisements—they always used real cowboys, going about their normal cowboy lives.

The Marlboro Man's persona became so widely recognized, along with the familiar rectangular red and white cigarette box, that copy was no longer necessary. The sight of the cowboy riding his horse through pristine mountainous landscape (Marlboro Country), either alone or with one of his trusted friends, became symbolic of freedom in America—or, at least, the freedom to smoke Marlboro cigarettes.



See primary source image.



See primary source image.


In 1971, tobacco advertisements were banned from television. At that point, the Marlboro Man was so firmly entrenched as an American icon that sales did not suffer in any way. A new sales campaign was begun—a combination of print ads and vast billboards. The Marlboro Man grew even larger than life. Billboards over sixty-feet-tall showing the cigarette smoking cowboy dominated the outdoor advertising landscape.

Seventeen years after advertisements touting cigarette smoking were banned from television, the tobacco industry lost its first major lawsuit and had to pay a settlement to the widow of a cigarette smoker. In November 1998, a $206 billion class action settlement was reached between the major tobacco manufacturers and forty-six states. As a result, in April 1999, all of the tobacco advertising billboards in America had to be removed. The large tobacco companies were required to continue paying their leases until their expiration dates, and anti-smoking billboards were erected in their stead. The tobacco companies involved in the suit were R. J. Reynolds/Nabisco, Brown and Williamson, Lorillard, and Philip Morris. The ban on advertising included: prohibition of all outdoor advertising of tobacco products, including billboards on roadsides, stadiums, arenas, and shopping malls. Tobacco advertisers were no longer permitted to put their logos on clothing or merchandise like backpacks, bags, caps, and T-shirts. In addition, they were banned from employing cartoons in either advertising or product packaging. As a concession of sorts, the tobacco companies were permitted to post ads of no more than fourteen square feet in stores that sold tobacco products.

Many states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Cancer Institute designed anti-smoking billboards to be paid for by the tobacco companies. Some of the ads look remarkably, and intentionally, like the ads previously posted by the cigarette/tobacco manufacturers. One such series features the familiar-looking cowboys on horseback. In one ad, the caption reads "Bob, I've got emphysema;" another said, "Bob, I miss my lung." Others addressed the fact that long-term tobacco use can be fatal.

The tobacco manufacturers were far from daunted by the new restriction. By the mid- to late 1980s, they began moving toward other effective forms of delivering their message to the public. They spent large amounts of money on magazine and other print advertising, increased the use of retail store displays and direct mail promotions, and hosted special (specific brand) smoking-related events at bars and clubs.

In stepping up their anti-smoking campaigns, the states and the various health-related industries took a three-pronged approach. First, they tried to convince people that the tobacco industry lies and misleads the public, especially youth, into believing that tobacco use is not harmful. Second, they tried to make people understand and believe that nicotine is addictive. And third, they sought to educate the public about the dangers of second-hand smoke—that it kills, just like the act of smoking does.

Two former Marlboro Men, both long-time smokers, died of lung cancer and their deaths received a great deal of media attention. Wayne McLaren died of lung cancer in 1992 at age fifty-one. After learning that he had lung cancer McLaren became an anti-smoking activist. He appeared before the Massachusetts legislature in support of a bill to increase the tax on cigarette purchases in order to fund health education for youth. He spoke at the annual Philip Morris shareholders meeting, making an appeal to the corporation to limit its advertising. At the end of his life, McLaren appeared in a very powerful anti-smoking commercial. It featured a montage of images of a young, healthy, rugged McLaren in a Stetson hat, intercut with images of the ravaged and dying man in his hospital bed. In the voiceover, McLaren's brother derides the tobacco companies for their statements about smoking being equated with an independent lifestyle and asks, "Lying there with all those tubes in you, how independent can you really be?"

David McLean, a longtime Marlboro Man, died of cancer in 1995. Ten years before his death, the long-time smoker developed emphysema. Two years before he died, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. After his death, his wife and son filed a wrongful death suit against Philip Morris, alleging that he had been made to smoke several packs of cigarettes daily while posing for advertisements, that he was given packs of Marlboros as gifts, and that he was often mailed cartons of the cigarettes. They allege that McLean did not believe his former employer would ever intentionally do anything to hurt him.

Ironically, there is a massive, well-financed public industry devoted to promoting a product that volumes of scientific research indicate could kill those who use it. Tobacco use is one of the primary preventable killers worldwide, yet people continue to smoke and to chew tobacco, and many more start using tobacco products every day. Worldwide, smoking-related illnesses cost billions of dollars annually, yet there is little regulation of the industry in some countries. The addictive, and the potentially fatal, drug nicotine is not considered a controlled substance anywhere in the world. It is estimated that half of all long-time smokers will die of a tobacco-related illness.



Sloan, Frank A., et al. The Price of Smoking. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004.


Boffi, R., R. Mazza, and A. Ruprecht, et al. "The Tobacconist Boutique, An Inviting (and Misleading) Marriage Between Smoking and Culture." Tumori 90 (2004): 161.

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The Foundation for a Smoke Free America. "The Truth About Tobacco." 〈〉 (accessed October 18, 2005).

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Tobacco Survivors United. "Philip Morris Image a Tough Sell." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

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Marlboro Man; Bob, I've Got Emphysema

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