What Those Funny Old Smoking Ads Really Show

For decades, doctors, scientists, celebrities, and cool-cat executives were all used in cigarette ads to deflect fears that smoking was dangerous. We pulled the following examples from a large documentation project by the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Credit: Stanford School of Medicine

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Hey, if my doc smokes 'em...

It’s easy to laugh at cigarette ads from the golden age of American smoking—say, from the flapper–ish 1920s through the cool Mad Men—era of the early sixties. The images of doctors and “scientists” reassuring smokers seems to hail from a naive, optimistic time when a pack-a-day habit’s worst consequence was an irritated throat.

But the real message is a bit different, according to Robert N. Proctor, PhD, a Stanford University history of medicine professor who is writing a book, titled The Golden Holocaust, about the global health costs of tobacco. The persistence of cigarette ads with health claims reflected a widespread, though low-level, public concern that tobacco was, in fact, doing harm.  

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