Saturday, November 1, 2008

“More Doctors Smoke Camels”

The good old days of tobacco advertising.

The Transform Drug Policy Foundation of the U.K. has an absolutely first-rate collection of early cigarette advertising on display at their TDPF blog.

I’ve always been a sucker for the ones featuring doctors:

The TDPF blog calls this one “particularly awful, featuring a five year old girl proclaiming to her paternal looking doctor figure and radiant young mother that 'I'm going to grow a hundred years old'. It then goes on to inform us that ‘possibly she may - for the amazing strides of medical science have added years to life expectancy.' You can 'thank your doctor and thousands like him--toiling ceaselessly--that you and yours may enjoy a longer better life.’”

It sounds like something Don Draper and his associates might have dreamed up on "Mad Men."

Yes, toiling ceaselessly—and, one may add, perversely—to convince an increasingly wary public that popular slang like “coffin nails” and “smoker’s cough” were the results of misguided thinking.

The TDPF, in turn, found the extensive collection at Stanford University’s wonderful “Not a Cough in a Carload” site.

The exhibit is intended “to tell—principally through advertising images—the story of how, between the late 1920s and the early 1950s, tobacco companies used deceptive and often patently false claims in an effort to reassure the public of the safety of their products.”

Smoking doctors were everywhere in the ads. The Stanford site states: “Among the more reprehensible tactics was the utilization of the image of the noble and caring physician to sell cigarettes: Doctors were depicted both as satisfied and enthusiastic partakers of the smoking habit ("More Doctors Smoke Camels"). Images of medical men (and a few token women) appeared under soothing reassurances of the safety of smoking. Liberal use was also made of pseudo-scientific medical reports and surveys.”

The print ad above is lamentably undated. The collection covers advertising from the 1930s through the 1950s.

“On first impression,” says the Stanford site, “most viewers will find these images outrageous, humorous, and so blatantly false as to trigger incredulity. But tobacco industry ad men also excelled in creative genius and had high levels of artistic skill. The best talent money could buy was recruited for this effort. Tobacco advertisers faced a daunting challenge: How do you sell a product which shortens the life of the user by an average of about 8 years?”

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