A Pack of Lies
Malignant tumors are no laughing matter, but the gallows humor of the exhibit When ‘More Doctors Smoke Camels’ . . . A Century of Health Claims in Cigarettes prompts more than a few paradoxical giggles. Featured in the display on the third floor of the Lister Hill Library for the Health Sciences at UAB are 25 print advertisements, all shameless tobacco promotions, which make the diabolical claim that good health and the pleasures of smoking are intertwined. And who more reliable to reassure generations of smokers of the vitality of cigarettes than the family physician?
The tobacco industry’s brilliant 20th-century marketing ploys are the essence of the exhibition. In the 1930s, cigarettes were touted for being “less irritating” to the throat due to having been “toasted.” Post-World War II Camel ads acknowledged the benefit of war-time cigarette shortages that forced smokers to light up what they normally might not, implying that coerced smoking of other brands made smokers realize how good Camels really were. By the 1950s, filter tips were invented as a “safer” method of smoking, although at one time asbestos was used in the filters. Low tar cigarettes were the rage in the ’60s and ’70s, but a 2001 ad heralds the latest creation of the tobacco industry, Omni cigarettes, which boast the world’s “first reduced carcinogen cigarette.” In a letter of endorsement from the producers of Omni, the CEO of Vendor Tobacco admits that there are no safe cigarettes, but claims that Omni is “destined to change the future of cigarettes” as the “best alternative.”
Dr. Alan Blum, professor of family medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, home of the tobacco ad collection, labels reduced carcinogen cigarettes as the “latest fraudulent gimmick.” Dr. Blum founded the National Tobacco Archive at the center in 1977. The ad exhibit is presently on a tour of medical and public health schools across the nation.
A 1942 Philip Morris ad in Good Housekeeping takes aim at the
sensitivity of the “feminine throat.” Women were often depicted with children in cigarette ads, as in a 1946 advertisement for Camels touting increased life expectancy. A young child tells her pediatrician, “I’m going to grow a hundred years old” as her mom looks on proudly. Another features a mother cradling a newborn, promoting a new cigarette that is “born gentle, then refined to special gentleness in the making.”
Ads for Old Gold cigarettes show an American Indian proclaiming, “No heap big medicine talk. Old Gold cures one thing: the world’s best tobacco.” A Chesterfield ad declares, “Science discovered it, you can prove it” as a scientist peers into a microscope, a burning cigarette propped between two fingers. Actor Robert Young is portrayed during his “Father Knows Best” days, asserting that his “voice and throat were important factors” in his decision to switch to Camels. And a seductive nurse puffs the same brand, purring, “You like them fresh? So do I!”
Finally, a penguin dressed as a doctor talking on the telephone offers advice to a patient, a stethoscope around his neck as he smokes a cigarette: “Tell him to switch to Kools and he’ll be all right!”