What cigarette do you smoke, doctor?

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgI’ve pivoted immediately from attending NECSS and participating in a panel on the infiltration of quackery into academia to heading down to Washington, DC for the AACR meeting. Then, after a packed day of meetings yesterday followed by spending yesterday evening with a friend whom I haven’t seen for a long time, there’s–gasp!–no new material today. Fortunately, there is this amusing little thing from two and a half years ago (which means it’s new to you if you haven’t been reading that long). It’s also very appropriate, given that I’m at a big cancer research meeting and the decreasing number of smokers over the last several decades has done more to reduce death from cancer than just about anything else. Speaking of cancer and cancer research, if any of you are here in DC at AACR, drop me an e-mail. Maybe be can meet up. See you tomorrow right here, same Bat time, same Bat channel.

These days, pretty much everyone, smokers included, knows that smoking is bad for you. It promotes lung cancer (and several other varieties of cancer as well), heart disease, emphysema, and a number of other health problems. If you ask most smokers, they will tell you that they’d like to quit but have found it very difficult. Indeed, we are now starting to appreciate that secondhand smoke is a health hazard, leading some states and localities to ban smoking in public spaces.

This is a huge change in the 43 years since the original Surgeon General’s report on the danger of smoking was released. At that time, 46% of all adult Americans smoked (including 50% of men), and smoking was accepted in elevators, airplanes, offices, restaurants–in other words, almost anywhere and everywhere. These days, only around 25% of Americans smoke, which is still enough to result in lots of smoking-related disease and death, but smoking is definitely nowhere near as socially acceptable. If you really want to get an idea, though, of just how accepted smoking was, looking at some old commercials is just the ticket to show it. For example, take a gander at this ad campaign from 1952, in which it is asked: What cigarette do you smoke, Doctor?


Note the doctor smoking right in his office. One wonders if he walks into exam rooms with a cig hanging out of the side of his mouth. In any case, it’s amazing to me how cigarette companies tried to link smoking with health by emphasizing doctors’ recommendations for cigarette brands–as if doctors’ habits are any more healthy than anyone else’s or as if doctors couldn’t be bought off with tobacco money.

This next commercial takes it a step farther (note that there are two commercials in this clip and the second one has nothing to do with smoking):

The “study” described in this ad is ludicrous in the extreme. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so deceptive. For example, there’s no control group; it’s not in any way blinded (smokers or physicians doing the examinations); it mixes new and longtime smokers; and it only follows them for six months.

Finally, if you want an indication of just how much things have changed, these next three ads associate associate smoking with either glamor:

Or romance:

Because nothing says romance like a mouth full of tobacco smoke remnants.

Or athleticism:

Smokers who know smoke the big O? I could come up with lots of cracks about that one, but I’ll refrain for now.

In fact, smoking was so accepted that cartoon characters were not infrequently used to advertise them:

Fred, Barney, how could you? In actuality, how could they not? Smoking was totally accepted back then; so why shouldn’t cartoons be used to advertise cigarettes? [2010 update: Amusingly, a question on Jeopardy the other day asked what was edited from Tom and Jerry cartoons for video. The answer, of course, was showing Tom and Jerry lighting up.]

Perhaps my favorite ad, although it doesn’t really have anything to do with trying to convince you that cigarettes are healthy (or at least not unhealthy) or associated with romance or athleticism, is this 1948 Lucky Strikes ad:

“So round, so firm, so fully packed”? I’ll leave it to the reader to interpret that one.

Yes, it’s a totally different world now than it was 50 years ago, at least when it comes to smoking. And that’s definitely a good thing.