I am a smoker. This is not a statement I make with pride. It is merely a fact. I grew up during an era when advertisements for cigarettes not only showed doctors smoking and espousing their particular brands, but also recommended menthol cigarettes for cases of irritated throats. Later cigarettes became associated with athleticism, fun, social acceptance, and, of course, sexual attractiveness, as recently seen on the Jay Leno Show (2010). During the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960’s, longer, prettier, and slimmer cigarettes, with equally suggestive brand names, were manufactured and marketed specifically targeting the “independent, liberated” woman. The Marlboro Man targeted men, representing the independent, hard-working ideal of the American cowboy. Advertising industry and media worked effectively to present smoking as all-American pleasure, not only crossing gender divides, but practically required to fully express ones independence, sexuality, and worthiness. Bombarded on the airwaves and through print, it is not surprising this
image of smoking became so prevalent in the United States and, through westernization, many other parts of the globe. When one considers the first national smoking ban originated in Nazi Germany, a sense of defiant patriotism very possibly added to the appeal (Proctor, 2001).
Since then, the popular public perception of cigarettes and smoking has changed drastically. It is not my focus in this paper to address the health reasons for this reversal, nor will I explore culpability of the cigarette corporations in any acts of deception perpetrated on the public. Others have far better addressed these issues, and more. I will, instead describe my experience of how this was accomplished, as well as the changes in our general culture in relation to this new point of view. Overall, it is a testament to the power for good, as well as bad, advertising and the media exercises over people and an example of the benefits of a minimal standard of social responsibility.
The increased awareness of the health complications associated with smoking, first published by Sir Richard Doll in the 1950’s, did very little to decrease the smoking statistics at first (BBC, 2004). It continued to be represented as an indication of the “good life” Americans were desperately striving towards after two World Wars as well as a means of both rejuvenating energy and relaxing tension. However, continued research
kept reaching the same conclusions with regard to the detrimental health consequences of smoking, and the public began to hear the warnings from the science and health fields, not from advertisers or the media, whose income was naturally dependent upon advertisers. Cigarettes remained easy to obtain and were actually rather reasonably priced. It appeared to me, as a young teenager living on a military base in Europe, even the Services were in favor of smoking since cigarettes, though rationed, were twenty-five cents a pack! According to the Hawai’i State Department of Health, cigarettes were not subjected to punishing tax increases until 1965, when they rose to 40% of wholesale prices (2003).
The research continued. The public was becoming alarmed. Compared to the media advertising by cigarette companies, the implications of this research remained peripheral. Even the federal Department of Health was not able to mitigate the impact of the media by much. It became evident political opposition was the next requirement and grassroots organizations sprang up which led to tobacco control organizations on both state and federal levels. In response to this new development, a campaign for “courteous” smoking and “accommodations” for non-smokers was pursued by the tobacco industry and its advertisers. Restaurants and other public places had no smoking sections. Labels announcing the dangers of cigarette smoking appeared in the...