The Many Smoking-Related Deaths of the Marlboro Man

The Many Smoking-Related Deaths of the Marlboro Man

Several actors who portrayed the iconic Marlboro Man have died from tobacco-related illnesses.

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There are times the human race must continue to amaze and confuse even those who believe they have it all figured out. Take smoking, for instance. The dangers of smoking are not like the dangers of eating junk food, which is known to be unhealthy, or the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, which invites a plethora of debilitating medical and social conditions. There are no “jury is still out sentiments” when it comes to the ill effects of smoking or “do this only in moderation” exceptions for the hopelessly addicted to cling to in desperation. Smoking kills you. And it is no secret that smoking kills. Cigarette smoking is the #1 cause of preventable death in the United States.

The Center for Disease Control has released new advertisements which feature those suffering from smoking-related illnesses encouraging viewers not to smoke, and the Surgeon General’s explicit warning labels on tobacco products are by no means inconspicuous. Still, the CDC reports that one in five Americans still smoke. The United States spent 96 billion dollars, more than any other country, from 2000-2004 on tobacco-related healthcare costs. The country coming in second was France, which spent 16.6 billion dollars on tobacco-related healthcare costs during the same period, or almost six-times less than the United States. Yet people still line up to get their fix, and grocery store signs are just as likely to advertise the price of a carton of cigarettes as a pound of ground beef.


Even the Marlboro Man, an iconic symbol of the entire tobacco industry since the 1950s due to a tremendously successful advertising campaign, has succumbed to the ill effects of smoking not once, but several times. David Miller, age 81, was a Marlboro Man from Meriden, New Hampshire. He smoked for 40-45 years before dying of emphysema in 1987. Wayne McLaren, age 51, died of lung cancer in 1992. After assuming the role of the Marlboro Man and smoking for 25 years, McLaren participated in an anti-smoking campaign, and his last words before dying included, “Take care of the children. Tobacco will kill you, and I am living proof of it.”

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The death of the Marlboro Man continued like reruns of an unpopular sitcom. Marlboro Man David McLean, age 73, died of lung cancer in California in 1995. His widow unsuccessfully sued Marlboro maker Philip Morris for contributing to McLean’s death. Eric Lawson, age 72, appeared in print ads for Marlboro from 1978 to 1981. On 10 Jan 2014, Lawson died of chronic obstructive pulmonary artery disease in San Luis Obispo, California. He had smoked since the age of 14. The Marlboro Man was eventually banned from U.S. advertising (along with characters like Joe Camel) in a 1998 settlement between state attorneys general and tobacco companies, yet smoking continues to be the #1 cause of preventable death in the United States.

So who would not be dumbfounded that 20% of people in the United States continue to smoke knowing the inevitable suffering it will cause?

Bottom Line

Despite graphic anti-smoking advertising campaigns by the government, Surgeon General warnings on all tobacco-product packaging, and data which shows smoking is the #1 cause of preventable death in the United States, one in five Americans continue to smoke. The tobacco industry’s most famous mascot, the Marlboro Man, has died of tobacco-related illness at least four times over with the passing of the actors who once took on the persona.

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Randal A. Burd Jr. is a freelance writer, educator, and poet from Missouri. He is also a Kentucky Colonel and a genealogy enthusiast.

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