I can still see it like it was yesterday. Rugged cowboys in dusters on horseback in a downpour, punching cattle panicked into a stampede by lightning. The theme from the movie "The Magnificent Seven," blared from the background.
Finally, the herd calmed, and we saw the cowboys sitting around the camp fire smoking cigarettes as the sun sets. They were Marlboro Men.
Cigarette advertising has been banned from television since 1971 but the image of the Marlboro Man endures. It has weaved its way into the fabric of the myth of the American West.
The Marlboro Man ad campaign, started in the 1960s, was one of the most successful in history. Before Philip Morris bought the concept from the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency Marlboro was a slumping cigarette brand targeted to women.
In the subconscious world created by Madison Avenue, the West became "Marlboro Country," inhabited by REAL men who of course smoked Marlboros. I was one goat-roping farm boy who wanted to live in "Marlboro Country." I knew what I had to do even if I also knew it was all a facade.
I smoked Marlboros for years starting in high school. I quit cigarettes Jan. 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan rode into the White House and made America ride tall in the saddle again. It was also the day my father -- a regular smoker -- had his first of two heart bypass operations.
He later died of heart failure. Mom died of emphysema earlier this year.
The luster has been worn off of cigarettes in the last 40 years. No one, including the tobacco industry disputes the fact that cigarettes kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and perhaps millions of people worldwide a year.
Smokers have been relegated to bars and forced to light up in the cold outside of many office buildings. Two of the original Marlboro men made very public pleas against smoking after succumbing to lung cancer.
Wayne McClaren, 51, died in 1992. David McLean, 73, died in 1995. Lung cancer also killed Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, the heros of "The Magnificent Seven" on which the theme evoked the memory of the rugged individualists fighting for right.
A lot of Americans have quit smoking but the powerful image of the Marlboro Man and Marlboro Country remain intertwined into the American mind. Now the West is changing and so is America.
In the 1990s, Marlboro Country went through a metamorphosis to appeal to a new generation of Marlboro Men. The West, according to advertising copy marketing this new image, is a "land that knows no limits." Marlboro Country became "Marlboro Unlimited."
They sold "Gear without Limits" for people who wanted to go to the Land That Knows No Limits. It was Madison Avenue at its best. It's was the mythic West at its worst.
Most of us who live in the West recognize it is not the Land That Knows No Limits. There are plenty of limits: Water, leadership, patience and vision to name a few.
Because of the growing limits on advertising and marketing Marlboro now only offers its Marlboro Miles catalog to smokers who can prove they are older than 21. I get it mailed to my house because my son got it when he lived here.
This year Philip Morris introduced into a smokeless tobacco alternative, Marlboro Snus. It also plans on adding more Marlboro branded products, including Marlboro Smooth cigarettes and Marlboro Virginia Blend cigarettes, using only Virginia-grown bright tobacco.
The Marlboro brand is still strong but its connection to the West is slowly burning away. My 22-year-old daughter's generation doesn't think about smoking when the theme of the Magnificent Seven plays.
The Marlboro Man is not dead yet. But he’s coughing.