Hollywood Unions Sue Tobacco Cos.
Nov. 27, 1997
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Smoking, historically a prominent player in movies and TV shows, now finds itself in the role of defendant.
The Hollywood talent guilds are suing the tobacco companies to recover millions in smoking-related medical costs. Film stars John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart and Yul Brynner all had lung cancer.
The lawsuit was filed Nov. 22 on behalf of the health plans of the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists and unions representing screenwriters, directors and technicians. It seeks unspecified damages and punitive awards.
Fred Altshuler, a lawyer for the unions, said Wednesday that the talent unions' members are company employees and not the people who make the decisions that have glorified smoking in film.
A lawyer for Philip Morris declined comment. There was no answer Wednesday during business hours at a tobacco industry spokesman's office.
The lawsuit is patterned after similar litigation filed by other unions and state governments against companies including Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson.
But it does take a Hollywood twist, alleging in one section that tobacco companies used movies to sell their products to children.
``The tobacco companies have also marketed to youth by inserting advertisements for their products into movies that have appeal to children. Such movies include, for example, `Superman II,' `Supergirl' and James Bond,'' the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit cited a 1983 letter signed by Sylvester Stallone that documents one such agreement.
``Mr. Stallone writes, `I guarantee that I will use Brown & Williamson tobacco products in no less than five feature films. It is my understanding that Brown & Williamson will pay a fee of $500,000.00.'''
In addition, the complaint said some actors were hired to make smoking look like an attractive pastime. The lawsuit cited 1989 congressional testimony from Dave Goerlitz, the actor who portrayed the ``Winston Man'' for Reynolds' Winston brand cigarettes.
``I was clearly told that young people were the market that we were going after,'' Goerlitz said. ``It was made clear to us that this image was important because kids like to role play, and we were to provide the attractive role models for them to follow. ... I was told I was a live version of G.I. Joe.'''