Direct evidence of tobacco product placement and smoking behavioral placement in French movies

Direct evidence of tobacco product placement and smoking behavioral placement in French movies

Prepared by Pascal Diethelm, president, OxyRomandie

Since the early 1990s, France has one of the strictest tobacco advertising bans in the world. The Loi Évin (law named after Claude Évin, the French minister of health who drafted the law) adopted in 1991 introduced a comprehensive ban of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, making France compliant with the requirement of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco well in advance of its ratification of this international treaty. The law has been generally well enforced, in particular because NGOs acting as watchdogs were allowed by the government to file legal complaints against non-compliant tobacco companies. Overall, for the last 25 years, above-the-line tobacco advertising has been inexistent in France, a country which can therefore be considered one of the darkest markets in the world for tobacco products.

Loi Évin has been effective in reducing smoking, especially during the earlier years. However, when watching recent French movies, one gets the impression that smoking has become the norm again in the country and that people smoke as much, or even more, today than they did 25 years ago. The National League against Cancer has reviewed 180 French movies released between 2005 and 2010 and found that smoking was present in 80% of them, representing the equivalent five tobacco commercials per movie.

Tobacco product placement in films is prohibited by Loi Évin. Film directors can claim their right to represent smoking in movies by invoking their artistic freedom. However, artistic freedom alone seems insufficient to explain the proliferation of smoking scenes in French movies. Something else is at stake. This is a subject which investigative journalist Paul Moreira carefully looked at. He presented his findings in a documentary broadcast on Canal+ TV in April 2013. Entitled Nos gosses sous intox (“intoxicating our kids”), the documentary explores the various ways the tobacco industry is targeting children and teenagers, with one important segment dedicated to product placement in French movies.

In Quartier V.I.P. (by Laurent Firode, 2005), French rock star Johnny Hallyday smokes Gauloises Blondes. The journalist managed to meet one member of the product placement agency which dealt with the movie, who admitted the existence of a contract between the movie producer and SEITA, the French subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco. He revealed how the original script had been changed to make an explicit reference to the brand name.

Product placement in Oscar-winning Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) was handled by agency Marques et Films. Not only are cigarette packs shown, but branded accessories evoking Gauloises were provided by SEITA to be given particular exposure in the movie. For instance, a plastic bag with the Gauloises logo appears prominently in one scene, while it was not in the storyboard (see picture).

The journalist has carefully investigated a recent case illustrating a shift in product placement, which may be either replaced or masked as behavioral placement when direct exposure of the brand is considered too risky: the tobacco company only requires that smoking be depicted in the movie, giving up brand visibility. This is what happened in Ouf, a first movie by young director Yann Coridian, released in 2013, in which the main actor smokes Gauloises Blondes cigarettes, provided by Seita. Although admitting having a contract with Seita, the director of the product placement agency which dealt with this movie denied product placement. He said that their only commitment was “that cigarettes be visible on screen, that’s all.” (See full transcript below.)

Their only commitment was that cigarettes be visible on screen! This is an admission that tobacco companies use behavioral placement, paying movie producers so that actors are simply shown smoking in movies. However, whether the brand is shown or not, such an arrangement is illegal under French law. Yet this is done and the director of a product placement agency appears to have no trouble admitting it in front of a camera.

Nos gosses sous intox was aired in April 2013; it has been available on Youtube since then ( The documentary contains damning evidence that product placement secretly and illegally persists in French movies. Has this provoked some reaction by law enforcement authorities to put an end to such practices and punish offenders? No, not the slightest action has been taken to prevent such practice. A practice which, looking at very recent French movies, seems to be going on at full capacity.

As a consequence, unless proven innocent, French movies in which actors smoke should be presumed guilty of tobacco product placement - and smoking behavioral placement. And treated accordingly.


Full transcript of dialogue between P Moreira, journalist, and JD Bourgeois, director-general, Place to Be Media

Paul Moreira (PM): “Product placement of cigarettes has never stopped. It has just become more discreet. Still today, we have discovered product placement of cigarettes in an excellent first movie by a young film director, released in 2013. The main actor smokes Gauloises Blondes cigarettes (…). The young product placement agency which handled the movie has confirmed to us that, yes, it is indeed SEITA which has sent packs of blond cigarettes to the film production. An operation which is theoretically banned.”

Jean-Dominique Bourgeois (JDB), Director-general of Place to Be Media: “Let me say, and this is important, that we are not dealing here with product placement: we will not ask them for money and the brand will not be visible on screen. Well, normally, if packs are visible on screen, it is the decision of the film producer to show them, if they want to show them, but as far as we are concerned, we have no part in this decision. Normally, the brand should not be visible on screen.”

PM: “But what is SEITA’s interest to send cigarettes if their brand is not visible on screen?”

JDB: “You should ask them the question”

Off voice: “We have tried. We called SEITA tens of times and sent them emails. No reaction…”

PM: They don’t communicate about this. Officially, it does not exist. If we had not investigated this matter, if we had not made 45 phone calls, we would never have known that they sent cigarettes.”

JDB: “Yes, but there are products of about 30 different brands which are sent to film crews.”

PM: “But it’s clearly forbidden. It’s not mineral water. Cigarettes cause cancer. It’s forbidden, OK, so they don’t want to talk about it, it’s secret. One can speak of a clandestine operation, in a sense.”

JDB: “Not in my view. One does not see the brand. There is no brand exposure. As far as we are concerned, our only commitment is that cigarettes be visible on screen, that’s all.”


Scene from Amélie, with plastic bag displaying Gauloises Blondes logo.


Link to extract of Nos gosses sous intox with sub-titles: