Superman’s sordid history of marketing cigarettes … and then battling smoking

Superman coming out of one of those ubiquitous Marlboro trucks
Superman coming out of one of those ubiquitous Marlboro trucks

Just watched Man of Steel and had to absolutely crack up at the nonstop product placement through the whole movie — man, I really hadn’t noticed product placement in a movie in years. Man of Steel was one of the more blatant I’ve ever seen — Superman has a battle with Zod’s minions in the streets of Smalltown, right in front of a 7/11, then in front of a Sears, then Zod’s minion picks up a U-Haul van and throws it at Superman, then Superman throws one of the baddies through the wall of an IHOP (there’s also an obvious ad for Nokia earlier in the movie.). Pretty funny. Like, we’re too stupid to notice. This movie grossed more than $500 million worldwide, do they really need the extra $100 million from advertisers?

Anyway, the reason this resonates with me, is the 1978 and 1980 version of Superman (and Superman II) is an absolutely despicable chapter in the sordid marriage between Big Tobacco and Hollywood.


Product placement in Hollywood films began in the 1970s, and Big Tobacco was quick to join in. There was also a long history of Hollywood glamorizing smoking in films, but the tobacco industry never had to pay a nickel of advertising — Hollywood was literally doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.

That changed in 1978 with Superman and Superman II (actually filmed as a single production). Philip Morris not only paid to have Marlboro logos put into Superman movies, they also paid to have Lois Lane chain smoke through the movie — Lois Lane never smoked in the comic book. What’s especially craven about this is those Superman movies as we all know were geared toward kids and teens. They were rated PG and were wildly popular with kids, like Star Wars and Close Encounters. I mean, the whole thing is just criminal to me (since cigarette advertising had been banned on TV for eight years because kids watch TV), on both the part of Philip Morris and the Hollywood studios (three studios were involved in the Superman movies, including Warner Bros.).

Ironically years later, in 2006, a scene was added in Superman Returns in which Lois is attempting to light a cigarette and Superman, using his super-breath, blows out her lighter over and over, partly as an homage to the smoking in the Superman movies from 20 years earlier.


Weirdly enough, perhaps out of some sort of need for penance for the 1978 Lois Lane scandal, DC did a special Superman anti-smoking campaign in the 1980s (and accompanying cartoon — seems to be British.), in which Superman battles a villain called “Nick O’Teen.” Nick O’Teen is incredibly lame. He wears a cigarette butt for a hat and has yellow teeth and has these weirdly pedo dreams about handing cigarettes to little girls (Not even remotely exaggerating).

Unfortunately, this cartoon is so dreadful it’s just going to have the same effect as those lame anti-drug movies they made us watch in high school; it’s just going to encourage kids to do what you’re telling them not to do.

Superman product placement (and more Nick O’Teen)!

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9 thoughts on “Superman’s sordid history of marketing cigarettes … and then battling smoking”

  1. Good points. I wonder how long a cartoon would last if it actually was designed to be very effective in de-glamorizing smoking for children? I bet the tobacco lobby would shut it down ASAP.

  2. Thank you for the great article, Pepe! One thing that bothers me about a lot about the newer movies is either the blatant product placement or the obvious allusions to religion, there are a few scenes in the new Superman man that allude to religion, one is right after General Zod makes his announcement, Superman goes to a church and in the background there is a stained glass image of Christ contrasted with Superman. Haruko posted a screenshot of when Superman exits the ship that Zod used, and as Superman flies off to save Lois Lane he strikes a pose that is similar to Christ on the cross. Neo in the last Matrix movie strikes the same pose near the end of the movie. There is a big push to portray a lot of the heroes as martyrs using the imagery of Christ on the cross.

    Yesterday, I watched the original Godzilla movie and the lead American character (Raymond Burr) in almost every scene he is in it seems to be smoking a cigarette or out of a pipe.

    1. I heard that mentioned about Neo in the Matrix, but I never saw that myself, other than the line from Morpheus … “he is the one…”

      Interesting, there’s another Zach Snyder movie, “300,” where there’s some Jesus symbolism that really bugged me. At the end of the movie where the final volley of arrows descends on Leonidis, he spreads his arms, and at the end, he’s shown dead, with his arms spread in a crucified position. So bogus. First of all, the battle of Thermopyle took place in 480 B.C. nearly 5 centuries before Christ’s birth, so Leonidis definitely was NOT a Christian, and secondly, he was also a warrior … and a pretty bloodthirsty one at that, which probably wasn’t far from the truth. So he wasn’t exactly Christlike. I thought that scene at the end of 300 rang false and trite.

  3. Great article pepe !

    Something about real life, my next door neighbor yesterday informed me that was the last day for her little brother.
    Evidently years ago he had tongue cancer and the whole tongue was removed. Brother was in hospital with all kinds of tubes and machines to support his sustenance, he could no longer speak

    Tobacco denied him of having a decent life with his girlfriend , the lil brother always wanted to have a dog as companion but never could adopt one because never had any energy to take care of another soul.

    All these misery because he was a life long chain smoker.

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