Tobacco products have had a long and inglorious history of largely unfettered marketing built around pseudoscience, false and misleading claims, and appeals to medical authority. The situation has improved today with tighter regulation of advertising and marketing in much of the developed world, even if tobacco companies have redirected their thoroughly unpleasant energies towards more sneaky marketing practices and less well regulated emerging markets in the developing world.
But for those of use who live in the new era of the tobacco advertising ban it is easy to forget the cynicism and shamelessness of tobacco marketing in the golden era of the 30's 40's and 50's. Below is a selection of some of the very worst, taken from the extensive collection lovingly archived by the Stanford School of Medicine. Click the images below to see full size.
The Chesterfield brand has the scientist actually smoking as he looks down the microscope. He has apparently 'discovered' that there is 'no unpleasant aftertaste'.
Chesterfield again: "Scientific Evidence on the Effects of Smoking! After 10 months, the medical specialist reports that he observed no adverse effects on the nose, throat, and sinuses of the group smoking Chesterfield."
Chesterfield now combining pseudoscience with the more familiar celebrity endorsement, here from Perry Como, apparently suggesting that you can smoke two packs a day for fifteen years with 'no adverse effects'. A medical specialist says it, so it must be true.
Lucky Strike this time, in one of a long series of celebrity endorsement pseudoscience ads about the 'mildness' of their product relative to others. All proved by 'scientific experiments' done by and unnamed 'independent consulting laboratory' . Using stage, screen and recording stars of the day, such ads frequently suggested that their product had actual benefits for the throat and voice.
Nicotine is a stimulant and this ad isn't a world away from advertising of stimulant drinks like Red Bull today, but interestingly the tobacco marketers managed to simultaneously run numerous similar sciencey-ads that describe tobacco's calming and relaxing effects.
'"Its Toasted" Your Throat Protection—Against irritation—Against Cough' - as endorsed by 'August Heckscher, President Child Welfare Committee of America'. Apparently 'Everyone knows that heat purifies and so toasting removed harmful irritants that cause throat irritation and coughing. No wonder 20,679 physicians have stated Luckies to be less irritating!'
And how do we know Lucky Strike's science is so spot on? Well, they have a big imposing building with 'RESEARCH LABORATORY' written on the outside, staffed by clever looking people in lab coats, wearing glasses and using test tubes and machines with lots of dials and nobs (Laboratoire Garnier being the modern day equivalent) . 'Prove to yourself Luckies are finer - get a carton today!'
The Truth About Irritation of the Nose and Throat Due To Smoking.' .... 'Their tests proved conclusively that on changing to Philip Morris, every case of irritation due to smoking clearly up completely or definitely improved.'.... 'These facts have been accepted by eminent medical authorities.'
Camel ran a long series of ads based around their research that 'More Doctors smoke Camels'. This may or may not have been true, but was shamelessly appealing to the reassuring authority of medical practitioners (arguably far higher then than it is today). Often portraying doctors and surgeons (in the mandatory white coats) actually smoking, this one above is 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 'and 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' . THIS IS A CIGARETTE AD.
This bizarre ad plays the medical authority card along with the pseudoscience claims but uses Side-show entrepreneur Robert Ripley of 'believe it or not' fame to back it up (answer: Not).
When not using doctors as reassuring authority figures, Nurses were a solid second choice. Especially beautiful ones surrounded by hunky soldiers.
Dentists were also used, sometimes 38,381 of them. In this ad we laughably learn that the tar caught in the filter 'cannot stain your teeth!'. Filters did not remove any more tar etc. than the equivalent length in tobacco - but were cheaper. Just another ingeniously dishonest marketing wheeze.
"More scientists and educators smoke Kent." - again promoting the healthy cigarette / filter myth. Kent's Micronite Filter (Lorillard Tobacco Company) for at least 5 years in the 1950s contained crocidolite asbestos, one of the deadliest forms of this fibrous mineral. Smokers inhaled millions of deadly fibers per year and were never told of the hazard. Filtered brands nonetheless have been massive success, growing in market share from 2 % in 1950 to 50 % in 1960, and 99% today.
This Phillip Morris classic appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1946. It encourages 'physicians who smoke a pipe' to use the new 'country doctor pipe mixture' . Also one of the only such ads to feature a journal reference.
A long running and highly successful series from Lucky Strike played on the slimming power of tobacco - suggesting that if you didn't smoke, you would eat sweets instead and become obese instead of, in this case. a strapping hurdler. Similar ads in the series played on women's insecurities about their weight. They were eventually stopped when the tobacco companies were sued by candy manufacturers, although candy flavoured cigarettes were to follow. The marketing of 'slim' cigarettes to women (using images of slim women) continues to this day in the US and elsewhere where a total ban has yet to be enforced.
Here's an old UK ad for Greys cigarettes (ten for sixpence) that plays on the all to common parental fears of losing your children because the cigarettes provided at your cocktail parties were causing the completely invented problem of 'smoke-dyspepsia' (indigestion). 'These specially prepared cigarettes are invaluable for preventing smoke dyspepsia. And if you don't believe this—Well, what on earth will you believe?' . Having introduced the new brand to her social events, with children reclaimed, one of the guests proclaims to the delighted Mother: 'These topping Greys are the making of your cocktail parties Mrs Scholfield!'
Another earlier UK ad (1918) for Ricoro cigars has a doctor telling his patient he can smoke 'as many as you wish', the patient replying 'Ricoro is the pleasantest prescription a doctor ever ordered'
Finally, towards the end of the 50's as public health science was catching up on tobacco companies and the era of pseudoscience health claims was drawing to a close, an ad for Old Gold that says 'we don't try to scare you with health claims' before displaying the almost unbelievably in-your-face hypocrisy of immediately then making scary health claims.
Tobacco company marketing, it is safe to say, cannot be trusted. At all. Ever. Tobacco is not a conventional product and needs to be regulated and controlled differently to other consumer goods, as do all potentially harmful and addictive psychoactive drugs. Tobacco provides a valuable lesson in what happens when such controls are not put in place and profiteering is prioritized over public health.
- More discussion of contemporary tobacco policy in Transform's recent submission to the DoH consultation on tobacco control
- Broader discussion on tobacco policy and striking a balance between prohibition, regulation and free markets, in 'After the war on drugs, Tools for the debate'
- See also: chapter on tobacco regulation in 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation'
Update 07.09.11 : On advice from a comment poster below, I have removed one of the ads - for 'Dr Batty's Asthma cigarettes' - which although featuring in the Stamford collection at the time of writing, appears to be a fake (from analysis of the Fonts among other things). Asthma cigarettes did, however, once exist - as this paper reveals.