Objective: To describe the development of the relationship between the tobacco industry and the entertainment industry.
Methods: Review of previously secret tobacco industry documents available on the internet.
Results: Both the entertainment and tobacco industries recognised the high value of promotion of tobacco through entertainment media. The 1980s saw undertakings by four tobacco companies, Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds (RJR), American Tobacco Company, and Brown and Williamson to place their products in movies. RJR and Philip Morris also worked to place products on television at the beginning of the decade. Each company hired aggressive product placement firms to represent its interests in Hollywood. These firms placed products and tobacco signage in positive situations that would encourage viewers to use tobacco and kept brands from being used in negative situations. At least one of the companies, RJR, undertook an extensive campaign to hook Hollywood on tobacco by providing free cigarettes to actors on a monthly basis. Efforts were also made to place favourable articles relating to product use by actors in national print media and to encourage professional photographers to take pictures of actors smoking specific brands. The cigar industry started developing connections with the entertainment industry beginning in the 1980s and paid product placements were made in both movies and on television. This effort did not always require money payments from the tobacco industry to the entertainment industry, suggesting that simply looking for cash payoffs may miss other important ties between the tobacco and entertainment industries.
Conclusions: The tobacco industry understood the value of placing and encouraging tobacco use in films, and how to do it. While the industry claims to have ended this practice, smoking in motion pictures increased throughout the 1990s and remains a public health problem.