“Not a cough in a carload:” Images from the Tobacco Industry’s Campaign to Hide the Hazards of Smoking

camelsdoctors.jpgIn 2005, Stanford’s Humanities Center hosted the conference called “Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance, which included papers like “Manufacturing Uncertainty: Contested Science and the Protection of the Public’s Health & Environment” and “Deny, Deny, Deny: How to Sow Confusion over Climate Change.” Now Stanford Medical School is hosting a fascinating collection of ignorance-generating advertising entitled “Not a cough in a carload:” Images from the Tobacco Industry’s Campiaign to Hide the Hazards of Smoking.

The collaboration of doctors in the ad campaigns is one of the most surprising aspects of the exhibit:

One technique used by the tobacco industry to reassure a worried public was to incorporate images of physicians in their ads. . . . The images were always of an idealized physician, wise, noble, and caring, who enthusiastically partakes of the smoking habit. Little protest was heard from the medical community . . . perhaps because the images showed the profession in a highly favorable light . . . . This genre of ads regularly appeared in medical journals such as JAMA, an organization which for decades collaborated closely with the industry.

The industry made some health claims for cigarettes; they were deemed better than sweets, and therefore “dentist recommended.” Camel claimed that “you can smoke as many Camels as you want, their costlier tobaccos never jangle your nerves.” And a calmed Rock Hudson appears in an ad claiming that, without Camels, “you may yip like a terrier” with anxiety. It’s fun to compare the 1930s to 1950s ads with the sleek corporate style depicted in the documentary Helvetica.

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