‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’: How Cigarette Firms Conned Smokers

‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’: How Cigarette Firms Conned Smokers

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For some fifty years, massive American tobacco companies conned generations of smokers into thinking that smoking was a a noble – and even medically beneficial – thing to do.

And the trusted figure of the doctor was used to sell the cancer stick, with one brand even using this immensely popular tag line: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

And Camel’s print ad even had a doctor promising that lighting up helped you live a hundred years. Here’s the pack of lies – pun intended – that fleeced millions of people.

RJ Reynolds’ Shocking Lies

In 1946, the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company launched a major new advertising campaign for Camels, one of the most popular brands in the United States.

Working to establish dominance in a highly competitive market, Reynolds centred its new campaign on the tag line, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette”, as the US National Library of Medicine points out.

The Camel cigarette advertisement that showed a ‘doctor’ endorsing the product. (Photo: <a href="https://in.pinterest.com/pin/347832771190670536/">Pinterest)</a>
The Camel cigarette advertisement that showed a ‘doctor’ endorsing the product. (Photo: Pinterest)

This was a time when there was a lack of public awareness about the hazards of smoking. And there was also little medical research to prove the health damage caused.

So Reynolds’ “More Doctors...” slogan was a success, and remained in use for the next six years. The company cited surveys conducted by “three leading independent research organisations” to support the tag line.

In fact, one typical advertisement proclaimed that according to “nationwide” surveys of 1,13,597 doctors “from every branch of medicine”, Camel was the brand smoked by most respondents. It also asserted that this statistic was an “actual fact”, not a “casual claim”.

But The Truth Was...

This “independent” surveys were in fact conducted by RJ Reynolds’s advertising agency, the William Esty Company, whose employees questioned physicians about their smoking habits at medical conferences and in their offices.

It appears that most doctors were asked about their cigarette brand of choice just after being provided complimentary cartons of Camels!

Reynolds Had Money To Burn

In 1913, RJ Reynolds developed an innovation: The packaged cigarette. Until then, most cigarette smokers preferred to roll their own cigarettes, and there was thought to be no national market for pre-packaged cigarettes. Reynolds undercut competitors on the cost of the cigarettes, and within a year, it had sold 425 million packs of Camels.

A Camel billboard in New York’s Times Square in 1948. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camel_(cigarette)#/media/File:Rokend_Camel-reclamebord_Smoking_billboard.jpg">Wikipedia</a>)
A Camel billboard in New York’s Times Square in 1948. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

RJ Reynolds became a behemoth of the tobacco industry. And campaigns like “More Doctors...” only helped its fortunes.

But as medical and public awareness about the possible health impact of cigarettes began to grow slowly, the misleading claims and the ever-present doctor began to disappear from cigarette ads.

The February 1954 issue of LIFE magazine was the last time one saw a doctor recommending a cigarette in an advertisement.

After the other tobacco companies had left such marketing techniques behind, Liggett and Myers made the claim in the 1954 ad that their L&M filter cigarette was “Just what the doctor ordered!”

Actor Fredric March in an advertisement for L&amp;M Filters.  (Photo Courtesy: US <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470496/figure/f6/">National Library of Medicine</a>)
Actor Fredric March in an advertisement for L&M Filters. (Photo Courtesy: US National Library of Medicine)

In this ad, Hollywood star Fredric March made this assertion after having read the letter written by a Dr Darkis that was inset into the advertisement. Darkis explained in this letter that L&M filters used a “highly purified alpha cellulose” that was “entirely harmless” and “effectively filtered the smoke”.

But it turned out ‘Dr Darkis’ was in fact not a medical doctor at all but a chemist. This was yet another brazen example of misrepresentation in a tobacco ad.

Nailing the Lies

The cigarette companies run of false ad campaigns ended soon with a historic study. On January 11 1964, Luther L Terry, Surgeon General of the US Public Health Service, released the first report of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health.

On the basis of more than 7,000 articles relating to smoking and disease already available at that time in biomedical literature, the Advisory Committee concluded that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer among men. It also said that it was the most important cause of chronic bronchitis.

With this, the words ‘Smoking Kills’ were branded into public consciousness. And the tobacco industry’s nearly 60-year run of blatant, deadly lies came to an end.

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