February 08, 1988 12:00 PM

As a spokesman for the American Cancer Society, Dallas heavy Larry Hagman has been sending up anti-smoke signals for years. Now there’s a new brand on the market that really has him fuming.

It seems that people at the American Tobacco Company were so taken with the relaxed, sun-and-surf image of Malibu—the star-studded enclave by the Pacific that Hagman, 56, calls home—that they decided to name a cigarette after it. Since September, ads proclaiming “Move to Malibu!” have been touting the new brand on billboards and in magazines across the country. “There’s a picture of people on the beach, out in the sun, and it’s for cigarettes!” Hagman exclaims. “This company has come into my territory, and I hate them for it.”

Hagman won’t be able to do much about it except huff and puff. Malibu township is not incorporated, and the name has been borrowed in the past to promote a variety of products, including cars and pontoon boats, with nary a whimper of protest. Even makers of beer and rum have used the name—which doesn’t bother Hagman unduly. “Drinking won’t kill you unless you abuse it,” he says.

Once a two-pack-a-day man himself, Hagman dates his anti-nicotine fervor to a bronchial infection that laid him up in Italy more than 20 years ago. “The doctor was going on in Italian, and I understood nothing,” he recalls. “Then he said, ‘Morte!’ and made this motion across his neck.” Hagman got the message, but it took him two years to quit. He has preached against tobacco ever since, even going so far as to tote around a tiny, battery-powered fan that he whips out and aims at smoking offenders. He also gives them as gifts.

It will take more than that to extinguish Malibu cigarettes. Peter Arnold, president of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, believes that American Tobacco has a right to the name, and most residents of the community, which was ravaged recently by high winds and thunderous surf, seem to agree. The company, which first tested the name in Vermont and New Hampshire—with promising results—has chosen not to respond to Hagman’s attack directly. But don’t think J.R. is discouraged. Says the star philosophically: “All you can do is educate people.”

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