Death of the Marlboro Man

Eric Lawson, more popularly known as the Marlboro Man recently died at the age of 72 after being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Lawson was diagnosed with the smoking-related disease in 2006.

(Read also: Stubbing out the Marlboro Man)

A vital factor in tobacco company Philip Morris’ and its Marlboro brand’s success, the campaign first originated in the 1950s in the United States as a means to popularise filtered cigarettes, which was then understood to be safer.

However, a market study done showed that men generally viewed filtered cigarettes as more feminine. To change the perception, creative agency Leo Burnett was hired. This led to the birth of the Marlboro Man. The team sought to create ads with various popular masculine figures such as captains, ball players or soldiers - tasks generally suited for men in that era.

The cowboy was the first in the series. The image of the cowboy along with the tagline “Delivers the goods on flavor" proved successful when Marlboro's sales jumped to US$5 billion, a 3,241% jump over 1954.

Even despite tobacco ads being banned from TV and radio in 1971, the Marlboro Man remained popular making its way around newspapers and magazines. This led to the brand becoming the number one tobacco brand globally by 1972.

The image of the Marlboro Man lived on all the way to the 1990’s. Like any success story, however, controversy followed close behind. Several of the men who played the Marlboro Man later died of smoking related diseases.

Some have candidly coined the Marlboro Red’s as “Cowboy Killers”.

Lawson, like many others, who played the part of Marlboro man later, started talking out against the consumption of cigarettes and even appeared in an anti-smoking campaign. In an interview to AP, Lawson’s wife said he had tried speaking to children to ask them not to start smoke but “he already knew cigarettes had a hold on him."

The news of his death comes at a time various governments are tightening ad regulations for tobacco products. In a in a watershed move last year,the Australian government banned all forms of branding from tobacco products, urging other governments to take the same measures.

When asked if similar measures will take place in Singapore, a spokesperson for the Health Promotion Board said that while tobacco control continues to be a “public health priority in Singapore” and that it has observed the court case in Australia, it would continue to monitor worldwide trends on the matter.

“Any tobacco control policy adopted by Singapore will be reviewed and customised to suit the unique requirements of the country,” said the spokesperson.

Read also: Singapore mulls plain packaging law