Tobacco advertising: Science … or smokescreen?

Exhibit and lecture to look at history of smoking ads

Today, seeing an advertisement promoting a brand of cigarettes by a person in a white doctor’s coat would be jarring, but such ads were commonplace in most of the last century.

Robert K. Jackler, M.D., the Sewall Professor and chair of otolaryngology and associate dean at Stanford University School of Medicine, has gathered many of those advertisements into an exhibit titled “Not a Cough in a Carload: The Campaign by the Tobacco Industry to Hide the Hazards of Smoking.” The exhibit will be on display in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center and the Bernard Becker Medical Library beginning Monday, March 1, through Friday, April 30.


Video of doctors and students promoting smoking Many tobacco promotions have implied the acceptance of smoking by doctors, scientists and even college students.

In addition, Jackler will give a free public lecture about his exhibit at noon Tuesday, March 9, in Connor Auditorium in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center. He also will be the speaker for the Department of Otolaryngology Grand Rounds Wednesday, March 10.

In 2006, Jackler and his wife, Laurie, an artist, began collecting old magazine ads using medical imagery to promote cigarette smoking. Shortly after, Jackler’s mother, a longtime smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer, prompting Jackler to turn a hobby into a mission. Several hundred ads later, Jackler has created an exhibit and penned a book of the images along with Robert Proctor, Ph.D., a professor of the history of science at Stanford. The proceeds will raise money for lung cancer research.

While critics were beginning to refer to cigarettes as “coffin nails,” tobacco marketers used advertisements to depict smoking as socially acceptable. One ad shows a smiling, rosy-cheeked nurse smoking a Camel cigarette and promoting the brand’s freshness. Another ad shows three doctors in white lab coats doing research in a lab and features the tagline “More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette.” An ad for Chesterfield cigarettes shows a man looking through a microscope and adjusting it while holding a burning cigarette in his left hand.

By using images of physicians and scientists, the ads were intended to provide “facts,” “data” and “evidence” that cigarette smoking was supported by the medical field and to imply various health benefits from smoking, such as weight loss, relaxation and pleasure, according to Jackler.

At the same time these ads were promoting cigarette smoking as “safe,” physicians and researchers at Washington University School of Medicine were linking cigarettes to damaging effects on the body.

Evarts A. Graham, M.D., chairman of the Department of Surgery at Washington University from 1919-1951, was doing laboratory experiments that established the presence of potent carcinogens in cigarette smoke. Graham, considered one of the top three surgeons of his time, is known for many outstanding achievements, including the first successful pneumonectomy (lung removal) for lung cancer in 1933. The 49-year-old patient lived another 30 years.

After discovering the link between smoking and cancer, Graham, a smoker for 50 years, eventually gave up smoking, but developed an aggressive form of lung cancer in 1957 and died in less than three months.

Earlier, Alton B. Ochsner, M.D., who as a student at the School of Medicine in the late 1910s observed an autopsy of a patient with lung cancer, went on in the 1930s to write one of the first case reports linking smoking and lung cancer. Several decades later, Ernst L. Wynder, M.D., another medical student, surveyed lung cancer patients about their smoking habits. The groundbreaking work linking smoking and cancer was published in 1950 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, with Graham as a co-author. Wynder dedicated his medical career to producing scientific evidence linking smoking to disease.