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Smoking takes its toll: Famed Marlboro man, Eric Lawson, dies at 72

Eric Lawson, who portrayed Marlboro man in 1970s, died at age 72 from a smoking-related disease.
Eric Lawson, who portrayed Marlboro man in 1970s, died at age 72 from a smoking-related disease.Getty Images

Eric Lawson portrayed the rugged Marlboro man in the company's cigarette ads in the late 1970s. Sadly, the actor has died following a longtime battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, reportedly related to years of smoking.

People magazine reports that Lawson's wife, Susan, said on Sunday that he passed away January 10.

Lawson was an actor who had bit parts in TV shows like "Baretta" and "The Streets of San Francisco" before being hired to promote the Marlboro brand in 1978. He reportedly started smoking at age 14 and didn't stop until his COPD diagnosis.

"He knew the cigarettes had a hold on him," Susan said. "He knew, yet he still couldn't stop."

Lawson certainly wasn't alone in his nicotine addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nicotine can be as addictive as heroin, cocaine or alcohol. The Surgeon General recently released its most recent report on the subject, The Health Consequences of Smoking.

It includes the following statistics:

  • Since the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health was published 50 years ago, more than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking.
  • If current rates continue, 5.6 million Americans younger than 18 years of age who are alive today are projected to die prematurely from smoking-related disease.
  • Most of the 20 million smoking-related deaths since 1964 have been adults with a history of smoking; however, 2.5 million of those deaths have been among nonsmokers who died from diseases caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

There is some good news. Smoking rates among adults and teens are less than half what they were in 1964. However, 42 million American adults and about 3 million middle and high school students continue to smoke. You can see the Surgeon General's full report online.

If you want to kick the habit, but struggle as Lawson did, click here for suggestions.