An American actor has become the fifth former “Marlboro Man” from the long running series of cigarette advertisements to die from a smoking related disease.

Eric Lawson, who portrayed the rugged cowboy character in magazines during the late 1970s and early 1980s, died from a lung condition at his home in San Luis Obispo, California. He was 72.

Mr Lawson, who started smoking when he was 14, suffered respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to his wife, Susan.

At least four other stars of the acclaimed series of commercials, which styled filtered cigarettes as masculine accessories from 1954 to 1999, also succumbed to illnesses linked to smoking.

In October 1987, David Millar, one of the first Marlboro Men on television screens in the 1950s, died from emphysema at 81 at a hospital near his home in New Hampshire.

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Almost five years later, Wayne McLaren died at 51, after a long struggle with lung cancer. In his final years he used his status as a former Marlboro Man to mount a high profile lawsuit against Philip Morris, which manufactures Marlboros, and warn the public about smoking s health risks.

“Tobacco will kill you, and I am living proof of it,” were some of his last words, his mother said shortly after his death in California.

David McLean and Richard Hammer, both 1970s Marlboro Men, died from lung cancer in California in 1995 and 1999 respectively, according to the Internet Movie Database. Mr McLean, who was 73 when he died, reportedly smoked five packets a day at one stage. Mr Hammer died aged 69.

Philip Morris has stressed that the character was played by dozens of actors and real life cowboys during the 45 year advertising campaign.

Like Mr McLaren, Mr Lawson criticised smoking later in his career. He appeared in a commercial that parodied Marlboro Man, and discussed on American television the negative effects of smoking.

However, his wife conceded that he was addicted even then. “He knew the cigarettes had a hold on him,” she said. “He knew, yet he still couldn t stop.” Mr Lawson is survived by six children, 18 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

Tobacco firms hype smuggling fears to avoid plain packaging, finds study

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Tobacco companies have been accused of encouraging scare stories claiming that the introduction of plain cigarette packs would promote smuggling.

A peer reviewed study has found that, far from the industry being a victim of smuggling, there are credible allegations that it has been complicit in facilitating illegal trade in its products.

A report by Sir Cyril Chantler, reviewing the public health benefits of plain packaging, is due to be delivered to the government this week. It was commissioned after a row about David Cameron’s election strategist Lynton Crosby, whose lobbying company represents tobacco interests. PMI, which makes Marlboro cigarettes and is a client of Crosby’s company, has warned that plain packaging would encourage smuggling.

However the new study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, claims such arguments must be viewed sceptically.

Professor Anna Gilmore of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath said “We found that from early 2008 until early 2011 there were absolutely no media stories citing industry data on illicit sales of tobacco, despite levels being far higher then than they are now. Then suddenly, just after the possibility of plain packaging was announced, we saw an increase in such stories, which have continued since. This, and the fact that leaked documents show that illicit trade was to be one of the industry’s key arguments against plain packs, suggests this is a deliberate strategy.”

Gilmore said industry claims that the use of illicit cigarettes in the UK was sharply increasing were “wholly inconsistent” with historical trends and recent independent data.

The paper also states “There is growing evidence that the tobacco companies are still involved in the illicit trade. There is evidence of significant overproduction of cigarettes in markets such as Ukraine and Belarus and we know these excess cigarettes end up in the illegal market.”

Many of the tobacco industry’s claims about smuggled tobacco are based on its own studies examining discarded packs at high profile venues such as racecourses and football stadiums. But Gilmore questioned the reliability of such studies.

“Tobacco industry data on the illicit trade is totally unreliable,” she said. “Their methodology is never fully transparent. Their misleading claims about illicit should be seen for what they are a desperate bid to prevent plain packaging from being implemented.”

The industry has been robust in fighting its corner. It has commissioned numerous studies that claim that standardised packs would see an increase in smuggling something that could deprive the Exchequer of billions of pounds. Itfiercely rejects claims that it encourages the selling of its own products on the black market, pointing out that it funds a range of counter smuggling customs figures published earlier this month in Australia, the first country to introduce plain packs, revealed that the measure has had almost no effect on tobacco smuggling. “This offical data from Australian customs is the final nail in the coffin for the tobacco industry’s argument that plain packs will increase illicit,” Gilmore said. “Yet again the industry’s lies are exposed.”

Deborah Arnott of health charity Ash, said the tobacco industry had paid vast sums to consultancies and thinktanks “to produce dubious reports against plain standardised packaging of cigarettes, which make up in size what they lack in academic rigour.

“The oft repeated argument that smuggling will increase if branding is removed runs counter to all independent evidence and is no longer credible.”