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Model says machismo comes from speaking out not lighting up

His was the face that launched uncounted smokes. Chiseled features, eyes glinting in the sun, he appeared in millions of print ads and on hundreds of thousands of billboards and coupons.

He was a Winston man, the kind the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company enlists to appeal, he says, especially to young people. The ad campaign was the distilled essence of macho camaraderie - a helicopter crew on rescue missions in idyllic mountain locales. During its six-year run, Winston climbed from the fourth selling cigarette to No. 2, right behind Marlboro.

About these ads

Today, David Goerlitz isn't proud of that. He finds the ``search-and-rescue'' theme of the campaign especially galling. ``It's a lie,'' he says, speaking of the notion, conveyed by the ads, that smoking is as healthful as pristine streams and clean mountain air.

In November, during the American Cancer Society's ``Great American Smoke-Out,'' Mr. Goerlitz kicked a 24-year nicotine addiction. Now he wants to tell the world about the hazards of the product he spent years promoting and which - he freely acknowledges - rewarded him handsomely. He's been testifying before the New Jersey legislature, speaking at schools, taping ads for the cause.

He says he recently got an offer from another cigarette company. No dice. ``I want no part of tobacco advertising.''

Goerlitz's switch comes at a time when antismoking forces are gaining on several fronts. According to Angela Mickel of the Tobacco Free America Project in Washington, 25 states have enacted strong measures regarding clean indoor air, as have nearly 400 cities and counties.

The United States surgeon general has issued official warnings on the hazards of smoke to nonsmokers and on the addictive quality of nicotine. The percentage of Americans who smoke is down from close to 50 percent in the mid-1960s to less than 30 percent today, according to the American Lung Association, and cigarettemakers are hard pressed to find new smokers to replace the 320,000 who die each year from smoking-related diseases.

Goerlitz plans to support, among other things, efforts to restrict cigarette advertising. ``He could serve as a role model for children around the US,'' says Cliff Douglas of the Coalition for Smoking or Health in Washington.

``The advertising has got to stop,'' Goerlitz.

About these ads

During a long interview in a New York coffee shop, Goerlitz described the world of cigarette modeling, and talked about his decision to cut his ties to the tobacco world.

When he was chosen as a Winston man nine years ago, Goerlitz thought he had reached the promised land. Just a couple years before, he was managing a truck-leasing company in New Jersey. He weighed a hefty 235 pounds then.

Health problems put him on a strict diet and as the pounds came off, cheekbones emerged. People started asking him if he was a model. Finally he thought, why not?

The Winston deal seemed to come out of the blue. Suddenly he was looking at fat contracts ($75,000 to $100,000 a year, base), first-class hotels, exposure in all directions.

``Usually, you are a nobody,'' he says of other advertising jobs. But in the cigarette ads, the models were stars. ``You are marketed, studied, researched.... It's definitely a good career vehicle.'' They even hired a cover photographer from Cosmopolitan ``to make us look younger than we were.''

This is a touchy point for cigarette companies, which maintain that they do not pitch their ads to young people. But Goerlitz says that's not what they told him. ``We were told young people were the market we needed to go after,'' he says. ``We were all college buddies - that's the way we were depicted. That's what young people relate to at 16 or 17. Independence, but unity.''

Cigarettemakers devote prodigious amounts of time and money to crafting this message, Goerlitz says. It took more than four months just to choose him from a pool of nearly 1,000 candidates. Five-day shoots in mountain locales might yield 36,000 pictures, of which four or five were used. There were four shoots a year, with crews of 21 people. The clothing budget alone could run $40,000.

``We were soldiers. We were on a mission - to sell cigarettes.''

Goerlitz counsels a grain of salt regarding company avowals that no models under age 25 appear in cigarette ads. Some agents are scrupulous, he says, but not all.

On the other hand, Dr. Alan Blum of Doctors Ought to Care finds this beside the point. ``Models don't look 25, so what difference does it make?'' he says. ``If a model was 50 it wouldn't get any better.''

Goerlitz is on a mission himself these days. The son of a Baptist minister, he started smoking at 15, and had been a three-pack-a-day man ever since. His wife hated it. His young son would beg him to stop as a birthday present. His mother sent him graphic photographs of smoking's physical toll.

None of it made the slightest impact. On shoots, models would actually engage in black humor about the health risks. ``We were all too young to let it bother us,'' he says. ``We were the Winston men. We were immortal.''

Then too, some of the models were not really smokers. ``I would have to show [them] how to hold the cigarette, how to glamorize it,'' he says. ``It was funny. Now it's no longer funny.''

Last summer, Goerlitz visited his brother in a cancer ward at a Boston hospital. There he saw people in their late 30s, just as he is. ``The immortal feeling I had at 16 was leaving me very quickly.''

He also started to think about the way his smoking was affecting others. ``I would just sit there holding my baby with a cigarette in my mouth,'' he recalls with disbelief.

``I'm not thinking about it this way when I'm doing it,'' he says of his years making ads. ``I'm just raking in the dough.'' The money he made was, he says, ``unbelievable.'' He once got an extra $4,000, for example, when an ad ran on the video scoreboard at a major league ballpark.

Though his ad agency lost the Winston account several years ago, Goerlitz was still under a contract that kept him from saying anything bad about cigarettes.

The contract expired in October. A month later, he went cold turkey. Since then, along with his speaking, he's been reading voraciously about smoking - an effort apparent in his impassioned and statistic-ladden disquisitions.

Goerlitz joins Patrick Reynolds, heir of the Reynolds tobacco fortune, in moving to the antismoking ranks.

Going public is not likely to help his modeling career. RJR/Nabisco, parent company of R.J. Reynolds, owns everything from Oreo cookies to Shredded Wheat, and cigarettemakers generally swing great weight in the advertising and publishing fields. ``It's a stab in the back,'' says one individual in the ad field who asked not to be named. ``A lot of people will feel ill of him.''

``I don't care, though,'' Goerlitz says.

These days he is running a modeling school in Cherry Hill, a Philadelphia-Camden suburb, and studying acting. He arrives for an interview on a frigid Saturday in December in dungarees, cowboy boots, and wool sportscoat. The jaw is square, the hair artfully tousled.

But looks don't tell the story, Goerlitz says. He is feeling those 24 years of smoking. The image of macho leadership conveyed in the ads was deceiving as well, he says.

``I was always a follower,'' he says. ``I was never a leader. Now I'm trying to reverse that.''

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