What cigarette do you smoke, Doctor?

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?

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.

More like this

It might have been Bob and Ray, but some old time comedy team had a line making fun of these "surveys."

"Nine out of ten doctors who have tried Camels prefer women."

That works on so many levels.

By justawriter (not verified) on 28 Oct 2007 #permalink

I like Steve Martin's line about being in a restaurant and someone asks him "Mind if I smoke?" Martin replies "No. Mind if I fart?"

I know that decades ago they weren't aware of how dangerous cigarettes are, but I am appalled at the number of people that smoke today. I see so much of it around campus at my university, and it seems like it's more common among females than males (I'm not sure if national statistics back that up, it's just my observation).
We had a big controversy this past week, actually, the SGA voted to prohibit smoking next to doors and in other "high traffic" areas (the concourse, etc), there has been a lot of back-and-forth on the issue.

LS/MFT? Loose Sweaters Means Flabby Tits.

Talk about brain sludge! I instantly dredged that up from 45 years ago.

Proving once again that a mime is a terrible thing to waste. Mind, I mean. Mind.

I remember seeing a 50's PSA about nuclear testing, and a housewife being caught unguarded by the mushroom cloud on the horizon but she knew she was well because the American government had her back. Anybody know which I'm talking about?

I'm totally sold on the drive-in theater toy. I want one.

Yeah, it does seem weird to see cigarette commercials with cartoons, but the Flintstones did originally air in prime time for an adult audience.

Anyone remember:
"A Winston tastes good like a cigarette should"
"That is bad grammer"
"What do you want good grammer or good taste?"

Smoking is still persistent on my college campus. Not so much among my colleagues, but among my students. I concur with the observation that smoking is more common among the girls than the boys. We've banned it near classrooms and in passageways, but the cancer cadets puff away everywhere else.

For some reason, it seems that the heaviest smokers like to sit in the front of the classroom, where they stink and out-gas for the entire period. (I'm sure this is only because the smokers in the back row are not as apparent to me.) The ancient "No smoking" signs on the walls are now accompanied by "Turn off your cell phones" notices, and it seems to me that similar habits are involved. My students light up their cigarettes and turn on their phones as they bolt out the door at the end of the period. Maybe we should give them yo-yos or something so that they have an activity for their hands.

It is disgustingly alarming how many of our health care workers, especially nurses, who continues to smoke after all the knowledge received. I worked with a nurse on a med surge unit last evening and i could hardly catch my breath when talking to her. It made me wonder how did her patients survive throughout her assessments. My mother died from lung ca even though she never smoked a day in her life yet my dad was a chain smoker. Come on nurses, we are the ones handing out smoking cessation packets on admissions of patients. What of ourselves and family.

By Rosemarie Mason (not verified) on 28 Oct 2007 #permalink

Interesting collection! In Al Gores book there is a Camel ad about doctors as well. Gores point is that if the tobacco industry could run campings like these then, why can't oil companies do it today (such as BP green washing)? In 50 years oil companies (focusing on oil) will be seen as an odd absurdity just as tobacco companies today.

But I did think it was funny when Morticia Addams asked "Do you mind if I smoke?"

By natural cynic (not verified) on 28 Oct 2007 #permalink

It is very disturbing how many college kids smoke these days. More disturbing, is the number of teens I see, either smoking or asking me for one. I feel so old when this happens, as I have turned into the jerk who gives a stern lecture, instead of the cigarette they asked for. But having struggled for three years to actually quit, I am all for encouraging youngsters to nip it in the bud. Not that it probably works, it only pissed me off when I was that age. (as I am writing this on a MAX platform, I just observed three young teens smoking - oy, smell it now, it's a joint not a cigarette)

How about smoking in other countries? Might the US be the only country to really assign taboo to smoking cigarrettes?

By Flying Fox (not verified) on 28 Oct 2007 #permalink

Everything Morticia Adams said was funny in some way or other. That show was pure genius.

France is cutting smoking in restaurants - difficult to imagine.

One of my favorite lines from The Day The Earth Stood Still was a doctor discussing the "human" extraterrestrial's long lifespan with a colleague.

"Apparently their long lifespans are due to their advanced medical science." (offers to fellow doc) "Cigarette?"

Flying Fox asked:

How about smoking in other countries? Might the US be the only country to really assign taboo to smoking cigarrettes?

Not just the US, and several countries are even more anti-smoking. The UK just enacted a total ban on smoking in "enclosed public" spaces. Which includes pubs and restaurants.

Well, whatcha gonna do? People have choices, and for some reason, young people think they're going to live forever.

Education is the most effective means we have for preventing smoking, until tobacco is outlawed.

The other place to notice how odd smoking is even in one's home is are re-runs of "I Love Lucy." They had ciggies on the mantel for guests, and ashtrays everywhere. And the old movies...it's so jarring to see someone in a film light up at their desk at work, or in a hospital! Irony--I used to work in a hospital that allowed the patients to smoke. That was nearly twenty years ago.

Not a very long time, yet so much has changed.

"One wonders if he walks into exam rooms with a cig hanging out of the side of his mouth."

I'm old enough to remember that actually happening. It was not uncommon to have a doc smoke in the exam room. Oh, and the waiting rooms at the time! Nothing but chairs and standing ashtrays between each set of chairs.

By culvercitycynic (not verified) on 28 Oct 2007 #permalink

Education is the most effective means we have for preventing smoking, until tobacco is outlawed

Education is important, but I often wince when I see the PSAs that play on the major networks. I was a teenager recently, and many of them made me want to go out and *start* smoking, drinking, or getting high. It was the kneejerk rebellious impulse.

I wonder if "smoking makes you a tool" would be more effective with teenagers than "smoking might someday kill you."

By Kutsuwamushi (not verified) on 28 Oct 2007 #permalink

Johan Jansson, "In 50 years oil companies (focusing on oil) will be seen as an odd absurdity just as tobacco companies today." Yeah, especially since we are beginning to see signs that we have already reached "Peak Oil", so that will not be too surprising. What I would like to see is warnings about climate change on automobile ads, now that would be progress.

By Fernando Magyar (not verified) on 29 Oct 2007 #permalink

One wonders if he walks into exam rooms with a cig hanging out of the side of his mouth.

True story. When I went in for a tonsilectomy at the age of 12, after I had been returned to my room and was in recovery with a freshly hacked throat, a physician came to examine the patient in the next bed. The entire time he was there he had a lit, smoldering cigarette in his hand.

Southwestern US, 1981.

I remember being in an unemployment office in New Jersey in about 1978 or so, when I was about 7, and noticing that the carpeted floor of the very large waiting area was spotted throughout with cigarette burns. It appeared that people smoked while waiting and just threw their cigarettes on the carpet when they were done.

Is this a case of misremembering or is this right? If so, it is hard to believe.

I would be interested to see some smoking/cancer rates for European countries (not in the UK), when I was in Rome a couple of years ago I felt like walking through some of the markets for an hour or so was the equivalent of smoking a pack or two myself, it was pretty bad, and I saw a disturbing number of elementary school aged kids smoking in every city we visited in Italy.

One note on the issue of smoking on college campuses, I've overheard random conversations of girls discussing using cigs as appetite suppressants/diet aids. We have a hugely active Greek system on campus (not that sororities are the only pressure to be thin, however), and I think that weight control is one reason that it seems more females than males are smoking around campus.

BTW, the drive-in ad (window #2) features a young Patty Duke (at least according to newsfromme.com).

It's important to remember something here--most studies do not differentiate between smoking pure tobacco leaf and smoking cigarette, with all of the chemicals that it contains. I imagine there is a difference and that smoking pure tobacco leaf, such as a high quality cigar, is not as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.

LS/MFT? Loose *Straps* Means Flabby Tits.
The Beverly Hillbillies: "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette had otta."
It was the most wonderful thing in the world, when they moved the smoking out of the office.
Back in '73, my landlord told me a doctor told him to smoke to calm his nerves.
The family doctor (I was born in 1950) smoked and was overweight and later diabetic and had a foot amputated.

One of my first jobs was working as a hospital orderly back in the late 1970s. I was appalled not only at how many of the doctors and nurses smoked (it was well over 50% of them, by my observation, closer to 75%), but at how many of the respiratory therapists were smokers.

This was a major hospital in Dallas, with a good-sized respiratory therapy department and thus lots of respiratory therapists, perhaps 25 or 30 totalling all three shifts -- and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM SMOKED.

They'd make their rounds of giving oxygen therapy treatments to lung-cancer patients with emphysema, then take a break to go into the lounge and light up. It was just staggering to see.

~David D.G.

By David D.G. (not verified) on 29 Oct 2007 #permalink

I went to see an ob-gyn several years ago. On entering the office/examination room, I had a hard time seeing the doctor. She and the nurse had been chain-smoking while examining patients.

The second bad sign was that the nurse did not know how to spell "chlamydia". "Is this "flamydia" or what, how do you spell that?".

By Hipparchia (not verified) on 29 Oct 2007 #permalink

Fernando Magyar: There are actually politicians in Sweden right now that have started to look into this. Already now all car ads in Sweden need to report the EU-cycle test-results for CO2 emissions. Even if the font is extremely small the info is there.

On smoking there is a bill right now that cigarette packs in Sweden need to be annonymized. Meaning that all brand names need to be written in the same font on white background. Also at least 50% of the surface of the pack need to be set aside for info on how dangerous cigs are. Like your "Surgeon Genral's warning". We have these messages already, but not so big yet. But, Swedish teens also smoke a lot. The girls especially.

By Johan Jansson (not verified) on 30 Oct 2007 #permalink

LOL. Fresh. "Here, have some menthol shit. It's great! Much better than the competition's shit".

The first time I remember someone strongly protesting public smoking was in the early 80's in a store I was working in. We all thought he was crazy. I smoked a pipe at the time but never in the store and I gave it up before '84. I threw away all my pipe smoking paraphernalia one night after I realized (duh!) that the house, my wife and our new puppy smelled like old tobacco smoke. I haven't smoked anything since and I am very sensitive to anyone smoking nearby, even on the street.

By Gray Lensman (not verified) on 01 Nov 2007 #permalink