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February 11, 2014 at 8:00 AMComments: 3 Faves: 0

Eric Lawson Makes 5th Marlboro Man to Die Of Smoking-Related Disease

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Who could forget the iconic Marlboro Man? 

This selection of "men's men" were on billboards, magazine adds, gas station walls, in pharmacies and grocery stores across America. The advertisements promoted Marlboro cigarettes showing these men in elements of excitement, hanging off a helicopter, riding a horse, climbing a mountain but always with a cigarette dangling from their lips. Of late, these men are anything but adventuresome and robust. In fact, Eric Lawson makes the fifrth Marlboro man to die of smoking-related diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseased or "COPD" in Lawson's case, last month. 

Has the modern Marlboro Man evolved into a sickly, wrinkled, frail being toting around an oxygen tank? In similar fashion, is the tobacco industry flailing as a consequence of its past actions? 

Let's explore the then and now of Big Tobacco.


Years ago, cigarettes and cigarette adds were everywhere.  Movie stars on and off screen promoted cigarettes on and off screen. Even doctors could be found in advertisements rendering opinions on the "better" brand. Virtually no magazine could be picked up nor any highway traveled without seeing cigarettes advertised in some fashion. The tobacco advertising industry was measured in the billions of dollars, even back then. Slowly the tides turned. 

Cigarette use in movies was more frowned upon and was seen more in sinister characters.  Media such as magazines responded to watchdog groups pointing out the hypocrisy of promoting health and advertising unhealthy products. Regulations accumulated making it extremely difficult to promote tobacco products on billboards and impossible on television. Big tobacco's presence went from ubiquitous to undercover.

1st Marlboro Man to Die From Smoking: David Millar died of emphysema in 1987.

Nowhere to Smoke

The days of old also saw smoking everywhere.  Public places allowed smoking virtually everywhere. Hospitals had smoking lounges on every floor. Shopping carts had ash trays built in. Movie theaters and restaurants had an ever-present cloud in the rafters thanks to smoking patrons. As a courtesy, most restaurants did have a no-smoking section for what it was worth.  Now, most states have tobacco laws outlawing smoking in public places with a few exceptions.  Clean air acts in many states prohibit any smoking in restaurants.  Over 50% of workers are protected from smoke exposure in the workplace.

2nd Marlboro Man to Die From Smoking: Wayne McLaren died of lung cancer 1992.

Financial Shift

50 years ago, cigarettes cost $0.35-0.50 per pack. Now, the average cost of a pack is $6.03.  Much more than inflation is to play here. Taxes are levied to pay in part for the increased health burden. This year especially when government eyes are on the cost of healthcare, an estimated $130 billion will be spent on smoking-related illness. Given this fact, look for money to be squeezed out of tobacco, either form the cost of products or out of the pockets of the companies.

3rd Marlboro Man to Die From Smoking: David McLean died of lung cancer 1995.

Caught in a Lie

Even into the mid-90's, the tobacco industry testified, even under oath, that tobacco products to their knowledge did not kill users nor were they addictive. This, of course, was an outright lie.  Now the tobacco companies are being held accountable. Last month, the Department of Justice smacked the tobacco companies with the open hand of the law. In a poetic move, they turned the same sword on Big Tobacco that the companies used to get America hooked - advertising.  These companies will be mandated to fund a major advertising campaign on prime time television and in major publications tagging statements to their name such as, "It's not easy to quit" and "Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day." I can almost see the same look on the Tobacco CEO's faces as my daughter when she is sitting in time out.

4th Marlboro Man to Die From Smoking: Richard Hammer died of lung cancer 1999.

My Take

We have come a long way to improve America's tobacco problem. Where 42% of Americans smoked in the glory days of Big Tobacco, that number is down to 18% today. Things are better but not as good as they should be. Hopefully, the momentum of this wave will continue sweeping tobacco products and their ill effects into the annals of history.

More from Health Coach Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. Others Are Reading


  • What about second had smoke! I never smoked but my folks and then various people where I have worked had the habit. It's a killer for sure!

  • Wow. Making money off of these killers is shameful. They still sell them. I see idiot young people smoking them and don't tell me they don't know better! I lost my mother to cigarettes and I hate them. My husband too, cancer. You cigarette companies make me angry! What did you do with all the money you made-----------enjoy yourself?

  • I find it hard to believe that these guys in particular the Marlboro Man didn't know about the long-term effects of smoking. People play dumb that's the problem. The Surgeon General had facts back in the 1950s, that smoking was dangerous and nobody had any credible evidence to say otherwise......... It's a shame it happened, you can argue that these people like the Marboro Man, who are against smoking, are only against it because bad things happened to them. They weren't saying that when they weren't sick because they probably didn't think it would happen to them. In other words they're opposing cigarettes for selfish reasons not because they want to help other people. If they still had their health and other people were dying they might not of said anything. This is my argument.

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