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Keywords:

  • Otolaryngologist;
  • physician;
  • cigarette;
  • advertising;
  • deception

Abstract

Early in the last century, when questions about the health effects of smoking became a topic of widespread discussion, tobacco companies undertook a multi-faceted campaign to allay the public's fears. As terms like “smoker's cough” and “coffin nails” (referring to cigarettes) began to appear in the popular vernacular, tobacco marketers recognized the need to counter this threat to their livelihood. One strategy was to use endorsements by healthy and vigorous-appearing singers, radio stars, and actors. Another was to raise fears over weight gain: “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” 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 (e.g., “More doctors smoke Camels”). Images of medical men (and a few token women) appeared under warm reassurances of the safety of smoking. Frequently, images appeared of a head-mirrored “throat doctor,” smiling benignly, while indicating that the company's product would do no harm. Indeed, many cigarette ads, especially for menthol brands, suggested a therapeutic soothing benefit from smoking. Liberal use was also made of pseudo-scientific medical reports and surveys. Our intention is 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.