Studios and tobacco brands

Smoking on screen causes young people to smoke whether the film displays a specific tobacco brand or not. For decades, however, tobacco companies have spent millions to associate their brands with Hollywood films and stars through cross-promotion campaigns and product placement.

Brand display persists today despite a 1998 legal agreement that bars US-based tobacco companies from paying to place their brands in entertainment accessible to kids. Media companies are not party to the agreement. Neither are giant tobacco companies in other countries marketing US tobacco brands.

  • From 2002 through 2017, one in eight (12%) of top-grossing films with smoking has featured an actual tobacco brand. Nearly twice as many R-rated films (16%) as PG-13 films (9%) display or mention brands.
  • Of the more than 150 top-grossing films featuring tobacco brands, nearly 60 films (38%) were youth-rated in the US. Many of the 90 other films with tobacco brands, R-rated for other reasons in the US, were youth-rated in other countries.
  • MPAA-members Time Warner (19%), Sony (17%), Comcast (13%) and Viacom (12%) account for most films with tobacco brands. Independent film companies together account for another 29 percent.
  • Of the brands shown being smoked by actors, 99 percent are posed with the film's star or co-stars. Uncredited background actors (extras) are shown smoking in films, but they don't pose with the brands.
  • After recent mergers and brand shuffles, 94 percent of tobacco brands seen on screen belong to just three tobacco companies: Altria (42%), British American Tobacco (32%) and Imperial Tobacco (20%).*
  • Six brands make up 73 percent of all brand appearances: Altria's Marlboro (36%); British American's Camel (12%), Newport (7%) and Lucky Strike (4%); and Imperial's Kool (7%) and Winston (6%).
  • Almost half a century after Congress banned tobacco advertising from television and radio, tobacco brands are also showing up in US cable and streaming series. Recent examples include BAT's Camel brand in Stranger Things (Netflix) and Pall Mall in The Marvelous Mrs. Maizel (Amazon).

Altria and Time Warner lead their industries in showing tobacco brands on screen.

* Japan Tobacco sells American Spirit, Camel, Winston and other BAT brands outside the US, arguably giving its brands heavier film presence (23%) than Imperial Tobacco's brands (20%).