Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

The last of the Marlboro men rides off into the sunset

The last of the cigarette cowboys died in January this year. Darrell Winfield, aged 85, was one of five principal reincarnations of the Marlboro Man, arguably the most successful advertising campaign of the 20th century.

Like the other Marlboro men he died from injuries after falling from his horse while lassoing bulls and chasing cattle thieves. No, that’s not true. The four other cigarette cowboys died much younger of smoking-related diseases after a lifetime of smoking Marlboro Reds, which later became known as cowboy killers.

The cigarette cowboy was rugged, virile and asexual with no family nor home. He was first created by the Leo Burnett advertising agency in 1954. He represented a sea and sex change for Marlboro which had been historically marketed to female smokers.  At the time of the last female campaign titled Mild as May (‘ivory tips protect the lips’), the cigarette had one per cent of US market share.

A year later Marlboro was the fourth best-selling brand in the USA. By 1972, the cowboy had reined in, castrated and ridden its competitors, horns first, into the dust. Marlboro became the most purchased cigarette in the world and has consistently outsold the combined sales of the next two and sometimes three most popular brands. This is how they did it, on TVs and in cinemas, from Cincinnati to Sydney. The Marlboro cash cow helped Philip Morris International, (operations centre) in Lausanne, sell tobacco-related products valued at 80 billion dollars in 2013.

The cigarette cowboy was the convergence of two great lies: the handsome Aryan cowboy of the wild west and the suave’n’sexy cigarette.

Cowboys can be traced back to the vaquero of the medieval times and the hacienda of Spain’s Iberian Peninsula. In the 16th and 17th centuries they arrived in the New World (the Americas) with the Spanish conquistadores and later colonized what is now Mexico and south-western United States.

In reality, most cowboys or cowhands were of Spanish/Mexican origin and about 20 to 25 per cent were African-American former slaves and many were American Indians. It was dirty work and poorly paid.

Cowboy Nat Love

Long after the west had been tamed, the Wild West shows of “Buffalo” Bill Cody, Roy Rogers and "Wild Bill" Hickok, glamorised and white-washed the image of the cowboy. The Hollywood cowboy was synonymous with masculinity, bravery, courage, selflessness and rugged individualism. He was the quintessential American male and very white.

President Theodore Roosevelt

In the 16th century, tobacco was promoted as a miracle herbal drug that could cure all bodily ills. Nicotiana was hailed the ‘holy herb’ and ‘God's remedy’. Nicolas Monardes, a physician from Seville, claimed tobacco could cure 36 diseases, including cancer, toothache and worms.

Hollywood and tobacco companies, reinforced the glamour and sex appeal of smoking throughout much of the 20th century.

Tobacco use today is the leading preventable cause of death in many countries. Cigarettes are unique among consumer products. When used as intended, cigarettes kill.

Lawyers, armed with writs and injunctions, are today’s cowboys. Their adversaries are nations. Most nations that legislate to improve public health policies in relation to smoking can expect to be threatened and sued by a posse of lawyers from tobacco companies.

Philip Morris has sued Uruguay, Australia, Thailand and Norway on the grounds that their anti-smoking legislation devalued its cigarette trademarks and investments in the country.

Tobacco companies funded the legal costs of Ukraine and Honduras, which  mounted a challenge to Australia’s plain cigarette packaging laws through the World Trade Organization.


Commentator and satirist John Oliver presented this excellent piece about the tobacco industry.

Former Marlboro cowboy and anti-smoking advocate Eric Lawson is the Marlboro cowboy in the red shirt pictured above.

Death in the West – this 1976 documentary on smoking-related deaths among cowboys was made by Thames Television in the UK and features interviews with the heads of Philip Morris. The documentary screened only once before a court order from Philip Morris blocked it from being shown. In a secret settlement, Thames Television agreed to destroy of all copies of the film. A pirated copy was released in the USA in 1982.


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