Tobacco firm paid stars to use products in films

Internal memos say that Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. spent more than $950,000 in a span of four years to feature its cigarette brands in more than 20 movies -- including payments of at least $300,000 to action film star Sylvester Stallone.

The payments took the form of checks, cash and merchandise -- including jewelry and automobiles for such stars as Paul Newman, Sean Connery and Mr. Stallone -- over the years 1979 to 1983, the documents say. Product placement, which involves payments for display of brand-name merchandise in films, is a legal and potentially large source of revenue for filmmakers.


But use of the practice by tobacco companies drew harsh criticism in Congress and from health activists in the late 1980s. Critics charged that the tobacco companies were making an end-run around federal laws that require warning labels on cigarette ads and banish tobacco ads from television, where many feature films eventually appear.

According to Brown & Williamson spokesman Tom Fitzgerald, the nation's No. 3 cigarette manufacturer -- which makes Kool, Barclay and other brands -- halted the use of product placement agreements several years ago.


However, among the papers, recently leaked to anti-smoking leaders in Congress and several news organizations, is an April 28, 1983, letter signed by Mr. Stallone in which he agrees for a fee of $500,000 to "use Brown & Williamson tobacco products in no less than five feature films." A spokeswoman said Mr. Stallone had no comment.

Jim Bergman, executive director of the anti-smoking group STAT -- which has accused tobacco companies of using movies to hook young smokers -- said yesterday that the disclosures were dramatic.

"It's purposely putting advertising in the movies but pretending that it's not advertising, knowing that the movies that Sylvester Stallone is in appeal to children and youth more than anyone else," Mr. Bergman said.

In 1989, then-Rep. Thomas A. Luken, D-Ohio, conducted hearings on the use of product placement deals by tobacco companies. In the biggest expenditure disclosed during Mr. Luken's inquiries, Philip Morris said its Tokyo-based advertising agency had paid $350,000 to showcase Lark cigarettes in a James Bond film that was to run in Japan.

But the placement effort described in the Brown & Williamson documents is the most expensive ever to come to light.