Dave Goerlitz: Former ‘Winston Man’ Speaks Out on Smoking, Anti-Smoking, and Vaping

Formerly known as the Winston Man, Dave Goerlitz has become an anti-tobacco activist. Once featured in a series of “Search and Rescue” ads for Winston (he actually preferred to smoke Marlboro), Goerlitz participated in the Great American Smoke Out in November 1988 and has been an outspoken critic of the tobacco industry ever since.

David GoerlitzGoerlitz didn’t quit smoking as quickly as he wanted to, and he wanted to do it for his kids, the oldest just 13 at the time. They were hearing the anti-smoking message at school and didn’t want their dad to die. At the same time, his brother was diagnosed with cancer, and Goerlitz also had a stroke in 1988. It all got his attention.

It took Goerlitz several years to finally break the smoking habit for good, and he was soon the star of the anti-smoking movement. The media loves it when a popular figure changes his mind, and Goerlitz became the poster boy of the anti-tobacco collective.

Just as the tobacco industry had downplayed the hazards of smoking, the anti-tobacconists were ready and willing to exaggerate the danger of smoking. And former smoker Goerlitz was only too happy to parrot their “junk science” to help keep kids from taking up smoking.

Goerlitz wants it to be clearly understood that he is not against tobacco and not against smoking, he just wanted to keep kids from ever starting the habit. (If they don’t start smoking by age 16, odds are they will never smoke.) Goerlitz supports smokers’ rights and eventually saw the anti-smoking zealots becoming as corrupt as the tobacco industry.

The led him to investigate e-cigarettes starting around 2008. Goerlitz had heard from thousands of smokers who wanted to quit but couldn’t give it up. Vaping looked like a useful tool to help them quit smoking or at least cut back, and Goerlitz believed there was “proof enough that at the very least it is a product less harmful than traditional smoking.”1

In fact, Goerlitz became such a fan of e-cigarettes that he bought 20 to give to his friends who smoked. He says that most liked the e-cigs and continued to use them for years. Some have given up tobacco altogether, while others still smoke but also vape.

However, the anti-tobacco faction seemed to be totally opposed to the new device and saw vaping as a new danger to combat. So what if it helped people quit smoking? So what if it was far less risky than smoking? It looked like a cigarette and it was used like a cigarette, so it had to be treated (and taxed) like a cigarette.

Although vaping had been invented as an anti-smoking technology, and even though many users had cut back or eliminated their use of tobacco, Goerlitz began to see the dark side of vaping as well.

Tobacco companies had stridently opposed any research that showed tobacco was dangerous. The anti-smokers believed that tobacco was so dangerous that it should be prohibited – and until that day, its use further restricted and taxed, much as the Prohibition movement had done with alcohol in the early 20th Century.

The anti-vapers stridently opposed any evidence that vaping was less hazardous than smoking. As for the vapers, some of them were equally outspoken toward the anti-vapers, and for many in the industry vaping was seen more as a new income stream and business model than a health issue.

On the one hand, we have greed. On the other, a desire to control the behavior of others. Unlike the Force, there isn’t a light side and a dark side when these are the options: Both greed and control use others to achieve their own ends.

Vape Gazette Interviews David Goerlitz

VG: David, you certainly don’t fit the pattern people expect from you. It takes a strong conviction to not only quit smoking for your kids but also turn your back on a lucrative career as the Winston Man. But let’s go back to when you were 13. What did becoming a smoker mean to you at that age? How would you say that compares with kids who take up smoking today?

DG: When I was 13, I was a typical kid with issues: overweight, cross-eyed, bed wetter until I was like 14 or 15. Thirteen’s got to be one of the toughest ages you can face as a young adolescent.

You’re told not to do things until you’re grown up and are mature and responsible. All of a sudden you’ve got a big company spending 14 billion dollars a year telling you to don’t smoke until you’re grown up, mature, and responsible. Pretty much of a dichotomy there.

When you’re 13 you’re gonna live forever. Thirteen is not when you think about dying. You think about living and becoming a part of a culture. And when I was growing up at 13 in the early 1960s, my friends are smoking, adults are smoking, teachers are smoking, police officers are smoking, judges and lawyers, jurists were smoking in court. If you remember way back to the days of John F. Kennedy – if you’ve seen any of the films with JFK with Kevin Kostner, the jurors and the attorneys were all smoking.

With all that being available, the image of smoking being associated with healthy activity didn’t really cause any angst whatsoever in my opinion. I think it compares pretty much today with a kid of this generation, they’re still trying to find a place to get comfortable. There’s a lot of boning going on.

Smoking is a way for kids to communicate with each other. Instead of walking up and saying, “Hi, how are you?” you can walk up and say, “Hey, you got a smoke?”

Tobacco companies know this. Tobacco companies spend billions of dollars a year to entice and encourage and lure replacement smokers, and that just happens to be teens. I don’t know very many adult [smokers] who never smoked [as teens]. I don’t know if you have either. Most non-smokers over 19 or 20 – if they haven’t started by then, there’s a real good chance they never will.

Percentages are in the favor of the tobacco companies. 13- to 17-year-olds seeking acceptance. It’s made to be cool, macho, tough, rugged if you’re a guy; fun loving, free-spirited, glamorous, sexy, slimming if you’re a female. So I think it’s pretty much the same.

VG: The tobacco industry and anti-tobacco industry both know that if someone doesn’t start smoking cigarettes in their teens, they are unlikely to ever begin. There’s a strong push against tobacco in the schools, which was one factor in you deciding to quit. What do you see as the biggest obstacle to keeping teens from starting? And what are we doing right to prevent them from lighting that first cigarette?

Joe Camel
Joe Camel, 1987-97

DG: The process of schools doing whatever they can to stop teens from smoking didn’t really start until the late 80s. In 1988 and 89, tobacco companies were still targeting and marketing kids, and schools didn’t have the funds to do tobacco prevention. That only happened in 1988 and 89 when Proposition 99 in California came up with this idea. The idea was to charge a 25¢ tax on every pack of cigarettes sold in California, and that 25¢ would go to schools for prevention education and intervention and help to keep kids off of tobacco.

Winston "search and rescue" ad featuring David GoerlitzThat’s when I got involved, and other people like me, to go out and raise the level of awareness. It was working. I think education was important. I certainly showed them in my ads how ridiculous it was to associate smoking with healthy activity like mountain climbing, being that mountain climbers generally aren’t smoking one or two packs of cigarettes a day. It’s just a real oxymoron.

I think kids if you tell them the truth, they will certainly rise to the occasion. But if they see adults telling a kid not to do something when that’s all they ever wanted to do, they can’t drive, they can’t drink, they can’t do anything without adult supervision. So as they reach that age of maturity, which in many cases is 14, 15, 16, we certainly don’t know what our kids are doing all the time. They’re going to do whatever they can to rebel.

And I think the only way to get these kids to never smoke their first cigarette is to be a role model, and being a role model is we should have banned tobacco a long, long time ago. But since because we can’t ban tobacco because of the laws, there’s no lawsuits available against tobacco companies anymore by states. I think the kids, the teens today see it as more government overreach.

I think if you tell a teen the truth – you’re going to prematurely age, you’re gonna get sick, you’re gonna get yellow teeth, you’re gonna stink, you’re gonna smell. Your girlfriends and your boyfriends aren’t going to care to go out with you because you do reek. It’s permeated every part of your clothing.

So I think telling kids the truth is the best way to do it. Not showing them pictures of black lungs and clogged arteries, because personally at my age I don’t think of pink lung as attractive. So I think just tell the kids the truth and that’s a good start to helping them make better decisions.

VG: You’ve mentioned that it probably would have been much easier for you to quit smoking if vaping had been around in 1988. How did it make you feel when you first understood what e-cigarettes were and how people were using them as a less hazardous tobacco substitute? Also, what are your thoughts on the vehement disdain for vaping in much of the anti-tobacco faction? You’d think something that helps smokers cut back or quit would be welcomed with open arms!

DG: Yes, you would think that a product that can prove over and over again that it is 95% safer than combustible smoking – you would think they would welcome it with open arms. The problem is the taxation levels of big tobacco are humongous.

A product developed that was invented by consumers for consumers found its way into the culture. There was no government regulation on it.

Certainly, you need to know what’s going into your body. We as vapers really want to know what’s in vaping aerosol. We know what’s in it. It’s five ingredients: You’ve got propylene glycol, you’ve got glycerine, you’ve got nicotine if you want, you’ve got flavoring if you want, and you’ve got water.

You compare that to 4,760 chemicals [used in cigarettes] of which 54 cause cancer and are carcinogenic – just do the math. So yes, you would think that the anti-tobacco people who are looking out for the health and welfare of people would embrace this and fight tooth and nail to keep the government out of it. Unfortunately, it’s just the opposite. Since 2003-05, when vaping came here from China with Hon Lik, who is the inventor of it, it’s been nothing but bullseyes and targets on the backs of smokers who are trying to quit.

They found something that worked. They enjoyed it. They liked it. It became huge. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Because the government didn’t have a hand in it and because the anti-tobacco people are seeing less and less funds coming in because people are quitting smoking and their revenue dollars and tax dollars are getting smaller and smaller, of course, they’re gonna try to ban it.

It’s like telling people on the Titanic not to get off on the other boat that’s coming alongside until we make sure that boat is safe. When smokers are trying to quit, they have gotten so desperate because they have been told that smoking will kill them.

Smokers have also been told they are lepers on society. They’re parasites, they’re child abusers or pedophiles because you shouldn’t be smoking around children. But yet they’ve found something that was really really gonna help them, and now the government and big brother is trying to take it away.

Well, it’s corrupt; it’s fraud. They cherry-pick science that’s going to meet their fiscal needs. Follow the money, connect the dots, and you’ll see that what I’m talking about is verifiable and true.

So I just want the targets and bullseyes of the backs of smokers who are desperately trying to quit. And keep this product reasonably regulated – meaning vaping devices, e-liquids, hardware – and make sure that we don’t price it out of the market and build walls so high that a smoker doesn’t even bother to try anymore. That’s the shame of it all.

It’s corruption at its worst. It’s a hoax in this country around tobacco control, and I’d like to be the one to help stop it.

VG: The vaping industry has grown from a dream in 2003 into thousands of stores in strip malls across American and around the world. At the same time, the industry is under attack by those who want to ban it and those who want to put such a high tax on it that numerous stores in some states have already closed their doors. What would you see as the most common sense place for vaping in modern society?

Share your thoughts on this article by leaving a comment or joining our Facebook group.


  1. David Goerlitz, Former Winston Man, Attacks the Tobacco, Anti-Smoking, and E-cig Industries, Ashtray Blog, Oct. 31, 2011

Further Reading

Keywords: #winstonman #davidgoerlitz

Short link: https://goo.gl/KuXnpA