Today, advertisements can be annoying. But back in the 20th century, they could be deadly. Cigarette marketing began in the late 19th century but didn’t take shape until the 1930s. The industry was entirely unchecked until the Surgeon General issued his famous warning in 1964: Cigarette smoking causes cancer. Before 1964, many people suspected smoking was harmful, but few had any proof. Tobacco companies controlled popular opinion using disturbing marketing tactics, such as celebrity and doctor endorsements. Here’s some of the most sinister cigarette advertisements ever printed. This post is not intended to criticize smokers; only the marketing tactics of companies selling deadly and addictive products.
Have a (deadly) Little Christmas
Come on, Ronnie. Former U.S. President and California Governor Ronald Reagan rose to fame as an actor in the 1940s and 1950s. Like many actors and actresses of the time, Reagan was roped into lucrative cigarette ads. This Chesterfield Christmas ad from 1952 shows the young actor ‘enjoying a delightful mild smoke.’ To his credit, the risks of smoking weren’t widely known in the 50s, and Reagan famously hated smoking during his presidency in the 1980s.
This poor baby had no idea what was going on. These 1930s Marlboro posters show exactly what not to do around an infant. These adverts intend to convey that Marlboro is a smart choice for a prudent dad. Oh, and baby’s got one for mommy too.
In hindsight, the use of this literal ‘poster child’ is particularly malicious given the harmful effects of smoking on children. I’m not sure what ‘feeling over-smoked’ means, though any amount of smoke around a newborn is too much.
Trust Me, I’m a Doctor
“ACCORDING TO A NATIONWIDE SURVEY, MORE DOCTORS SMOKE CAMELS THAN ANY OTHER CIGARETTE”
The so-called ‘nationwide survey’ was conducted by a company owned by Camel, of course. Doctors who participated were given free cartons of cigarettes, too. But this advertisement never claimed to be holistic. The true intent of this ad was to convince the reader that negative symptoms caused by smoking were due to which cigarette you smoked, not smoking itself. Through this ad, RJ Reynolds suggests that smoking Camels is the ‘right choice.’ How could it not be? Your doctor smokes Camels!
You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.
For the first time, a cigarette brand was targeted specifically at women. In the 1960s, the Virginia Slims brand coined the slogan, “you’ve come a long way, baby,” in order to exploit the recent progress made in women’s rights.
The purpose of the marketing campaign was to convince a new group of young, independent women that they should smoke, just like men. But according the ad, regular cigarettes don’t ‘fit’ a woman, and for some reason have to be made thinner. Turns out, the width of a cigarette had little to do with its danger. The tobacco industry’s attempt to ‘fill in the gaps’ in the market highlight the dark history of the industry. The ad had nothing to do with emancipating women. Men were already addicted; and now it was socially acceptable for women to smoke, so the tobacco companies pounced. The result was this bizarre and unfortunate targeted campaign.
Double Dose of Death
At first glance, this Kent cigarette ad doesn’t seem too insipid. Sure, it throws in some references to doctors and safety, but there’s no child mascot or flashy pictures. Sometimes, you have to look below the surface to see the truth.
In the ’50s, filter cigarettes took off, as companies decided to market certain cigarettes as ‘safer’ or ‘healthier’ than others. It made sense initially; if you filter the smoke, it’d be cleaner, right? Not necessarily. In this case, Kent marketed their new ‘Micronite’ filter, which did anything but reduce the harmful effects of smoking. In fact, the ‘revolutionary’ new ingredient in the Kent Micronite filter was crocidolite asbestos.
Worse yet, crocidolite is one of the more carcinogenic forms of asbestos, due to the sharp and rigid nature of its indestructible fibers. By the 1950s, the dangers of asbestos had been relatively well observed, and the engineers at Kent should have been (at least) somewhat aware of them. It is hard to imagine anything more hazardous than stuffing asbestos into the filter of an (already toxic) cigarette.
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