The AIDS Committee of Toronto has begun an education campaign parodying Marlboro ads. It's not the first time Marlboro imagery has been geared to gay men.
Internal documents released by Philip Morris (the American manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes) indicate that they conducted market research among gay smokers.
In 1994, Guiles and Associates ran market research groups among gay men in San Francisco. The firm concluded: "In a society where homosexual activity is often interpreted to mean non-masculinity, Marlboro is particularly appreciated as both a cue to manhood and to independence." Gay smokers saw the Marlboro man as "the ultimate stud... orally fixated... and maybe a great one-nighter."
Anne Landman of the American Lung Association in Colorado uncovered the report among millions of pages of internal documents that tobacco companies were required to release. "From the documents, we know that a cigarette is a cigarette -- it's the imagery that sells the brand," she tells NOW.
ACT's John Maxwell confirms that the Marlboro man has particular significance for gay men. "But here we're subverting the idea of a cigarette ad, turning it on its ear. It's going to generate talk."
Gay men are significantly more likely to smoke than the general population, according to a recent study by the University of Southern California, which found 48 per cent of gay men smoke, as compared to 27 per cent of all men.
Jim Whitney of Naked Creative Consultancy Inc., which came up with the ACT campaign, isn't concerned the reference to smoking might undermine its health-conscious intent. "We thought about how we could get the (safe sex) idea across in an interesting and creative way," he says.
The original Marlboro man was portrayed by several actors. One of them (Wayne McLaren) died of lung cancer in 1992 at 51, after asking the company to voluntarily limit its advertising.
Philip Morris didn't return calls.