Former Marlboro Man dies from smoking-related disease

Tuesday, February 04, 2014 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: Marlboro Man, cigarettes, smoking-related disease

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(NaturalNews) Eric Lawson, a former Marlboro-Man-turned-antismoking-advocate, died at his home from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on January 10. A lifelong smoker, Lawson was diagnosed with the smoking-related disease in 2006. He was eventually able to quit smoking before his death at age 72.

Before taking on the role as the iconic Marlboro Man in 1978, Lawson acted in western TV shows and films, including The Shooter, Walker, Texas Ranger, Tall Tale, Bonanza: Under Attack and The A-Team. Because television ads for cigarettes were no longer permitted by 1978, Lawson instead portrayed the manly, smoking cowboy in print ads for three years. His wife, Susan Lawson, says she still has one of the ads that appeared in Time magazine.

Lawson was a loyal Marlboro customer, smoking up to three packs a day.

In order to become the Marlboro Man, Lawson had to prove that he was actually a real cowboy, not just an actor.

"He had to go out and ride, he needed to prove himself as a cowboy," Lawson's wife said of his audition.

Long before he was able to quit tobacco himself, Lawson became a public anti-tobacco campaigner. He even starred in a 1998 TV public service announcement for the American Cancer Society (ACS) that parodied the character of the Marlboro Man.

"He tried to speak to the kids, telling them don't start smoking," his wife said. "He already knew cigarettes had a hold on him."

The century's most powerful brand image

The Marlboro Man was introduced in the 1950s as an attempt to counter filtered cigarettes' image as a product for women. Although many "manly" professions were featured as Marlboro Men, including hunters, miners, pilots and weightlifters, the cowboy was the most popular and the most often used.

"The most powerful - and in some quarters, most hated - brand image of the century, the Marlboro Man stands worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world," the publication Advertising Age wrote in 1999.

Lawson was one of just dozens of men who portrayed the Marlboro Man over the decades and was friends with several of them. One of these friends was Wayne McLaren, another lifelong smoker who became an anti-tobacco campaigner in his later years. McLaren died of lung cancer in 1992.

David McLean, who appeared as the Marlboro Man in both print and television ads, also died of lung cancer in 1995.

A powerful antismoking spokesperson

In his later years, Lawson was considered an effective and potent antismoking advocate. The 30-second public service announcement that he starred in in 1998 for the ACS features Lawson in full cowboy regalia while Western music plays in the background. Lawson's character smokes continually while performing cowboy-style tasks such as riding a horse, herding cattle, splitting firewood and mending fences. The music ends with an abrupt thud, and Lawson's character turns around, shocked to see his horse lying still on the ground. The ad closes with the words: "Secondhand smoke kills."

According to his obituary, Lawson "was particularly proud of an NBC interview he gave regarding the negative effects of cigarette smoking."

According to John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the ACS, Lawson was an effective role model who really made a difference in people's lives and in their attitudes about smoking simply by explaining what cigarettes had done to him personally.

"That's important," Seffrin said, "because people stop and think if that happens to Eric Lawson it could happen to me."

Lawson is survived by his wife, six children, 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

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