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Story behind cigarette and alcohol portrayal in popular films: Admirable art or shameful business?

19 July 2016 12:09 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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ome popular films portray the use of alcohol and cigarettes in a very noticeable way. One tends to wonder if this is just a part of the story line or deliberate manipulation of the script.   
We may be able to find an answer by reading some letters exchanged between a now defunct company in the USA called Associated Film Promotions (AFP) and famous actor 
Sylvester Stallone. 
Sylvester Stallone, sometimes called Sly, is recognised worldwide as an actor, writer and director ever since he played the title role in his own screenplay Rocky, which won an Oscar in 1976 for the Best Picture.   
These letters were exchanged in 1983. At the peak of Sly’s popularity.  
AFP, one of Hollywood’s most prominent product-placement firms owned by Bob Kovoloff, ran a nearly $1-million campaign in the early 1980s to place Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. brands in feature films.  
‘Truth’ Tobacco Industry Documents (formerly known as Legacy Tobacco Documents Library), was created in 2002 to house and provide permanent access to the tobacco industry’s internal corporate documents. 
The tobacco industry had to produce these documents during litigation between US States and the seven major tobacco industry organizations and other sources in USA, known as the Master Settlement Agreement.   
Thanks to the Truth Library, we can now access these letters between AFP and Sly.   
One from Sly is reproduced in Box 1. Sly, The Hero, says that he expects US$500,000 as promised in return for his use of tobacco products of Brown and Williamson in his movies.  
Just under two months, AFP responds in a detailed letter addressed to Sylvester Stallone. This letter (box 2) outlines their plan to have Sylvester Stallone promote the products.  
Out of the films mentioned in the letter, Sylvester Stallone missed the opportunity of taking part in God Father III. Others went ahead as planned.  
Movie directors, script writers, actors and other artistes, like Sly, accepting money and other gifts from the big corporations in order to feature their products in movies and other art forms is called product placement.   
It has been happening for many decades. It is happening today, not only in the USA, but in other countries, too, including Sri Lanka.


Portrayal of smoking, drinking and other unhealthy behaviours on movies and TV is proven to promote such behaviour in viewers, especially young people. Irrelevant of the fact that portrayal is done by the hero or the villain.  
Many Producers claim that their production shows the ill effects of tobacco and alcohol. However, the mere portrayal of smoking cigarettes has been shown to have very significant and a nett negative effect on youth.   
We can examine this with a parallel example -- let us assume one producer wants to produce a movie to support the prevention of HIV/ AIDS. The movie , for example, shows a large collection of hard-core sex scenes between various people who meet casually for sex. It also depicts all sorts of sexual acts with no condoms or other safety measures with the unsafe behaviour being shown in an attractive and a glorified way. In the concluding minutes of the movie one character is shown dying of HIV/AIDS.   
Do you think that this movie would prevent HIV/AIDS or perhaps do the opposite of that?  
Product placement has reached new levels and it is out in the open. Everybody knows that this is product placement, but nobody seems to 
notice it.   
Or, do they simply not care?

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  Comments - 1

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  • Asanga Bandara Thursday, 21 July 2016 07:42 AM

    I've witnessed concepts such as product placement, unit value, face value etc.in primary school in certain countries and in my opinion it makes a lot of sense in terms of producing a better consumer at the market in future; was wondering if this article encompasses something (among many) missed by the experts in Education-Sri Lanka.


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