1930’s Hollywood was the Tobacco Industry’s Main Marketing Tool

The extent to which Hollywood helped the spread of smoking has recently been revealed. Company documents made public during recent anti-smoking lawsuits have shown how involved Hollywood was during the “golden age of cinema” with promoting tobacco and smoking. During the 1930-1950 period, often referred to as the Golden Age of Cinema, tobacco companies paid vast sums to get their product, cigarettes, featured in film. According to the accounts, one tobacco company paid more than $3 million to various actors and studios in one year alone.

Studies have also shown that the legacy still lives on. According to a paper published in the journal Tobacco Control, the classic films of the 1930-50’s still help to promote smoking today.


Films such as Casablanca are cult classics, watched by teenagers and school children, and feature many scenes that glamorise smoking. It is thought that just about all of the most popular actors and actresses in Hollywood during the golden age received sponsorship from Tobacco companies at some point. Some of the top Hollywood celebrities to promote smoking were Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Bette Davis and Betty Grable.

Lucky Strike even declared itself as the “cigarette of the acting profession”, with “Jazz Singer” star Al Jolson once declaring that “The good old flavour of Luckies is as sweet and soothing as the best ‘Mammy’
song ever written”. Lucky Strike paid $10,000 (about $150,000 today) to Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Robert Taylor to name a few.

Tobacco was also promoted on radio, with endorsements being given by actors during shows. Lauren Bacall famously gave some cleverly scripted smoking endorsements in the shows that she appeared in, and the shows themselves were often financed by Tobacco companies.

Lead researcher, Professor Stanton Glantz, has theorised that the huge investments made during the golden age of cinema are still paying off today, despite the ban on tobacco advertising now. Smoking imagery from
the golden age of cinema is still influencing children and younger adults to start smoking today.

The UK anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is campaigning to include health warnings before films, to make viewers aware that the images seen were originally sponsored by tobacco companies.

Hollywood Celebrities that were sponsored by Lucky Stripe – 1937/8

Actor US$ paid (2008 equivalent)

  • Gary Cooper $10,000 (146,583)
  • Joan Crawford $10,000 (146,583)
  • Henry Fonda $3,000 (43,975)
  • Clark Gable $10,000 (146,583)
  • Bob Hope $2,500 (36,646)
  • Gertrude Lawrence $1,750 (25,652)
  • Carole Lombard $10,000 (146,583)
  • Myrna Loy $10,000 (146,583)
  • Fred MacMurray $6,000 (87,950)
  • Ray Milland $ 2,000 (29,317)
  • George Raft $3,000 (43,975)
  • Edward Robinson $3,000 (43,975)
  • Barbara Stanwyck $ 10,000 (146,583)
  • Gloria Swanson $1,500 (21,988)
  • Robert Taylor $10,000 (146,583)
  • Spencer Tracy $10,000 (146,583)

Source: Tobacco Control 2008

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