Collection: 20,679 Physicians
As the “More Doctors Smoke Camels” campaign theme demonstrates, one common technique wielded by the tobacco industry to reassure a worried public was to incorporate images of physicians in their ads. The none-too-subtle message was that if the doctor, with all of his expertise, chose to smoke a particular brand, then it must be safe. Unlike with celebrity and athlete endorsers, the doctors depicted were never specific individuals, because physicians who engaged in advertising would risk losing their license. (It was contrary to accepted medical ethics at the time for doctors to advertise.) Instead, the images always presented an idealized physician – wise, noble, and caring – who enthusiastically partook of the smoking habit. All of the “doctors” in these ads came out of central casting and were simply actors dressed up to look like doctors. Little protest was heard from the medical community or organized medicine, perhaps because the images showed the profession in a highly favorable light. This genre of ads regularly appeared in medical journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, an organization which for decades collaborated closely with the industry. The big push to document health hazards also did not arrive until later.
Most notable in this theme are the “20,679 Physicians” advertisements, which ran from 1928 to 1932 and claimed that physicians found Lucky Strike cigarettes “less irritating.” The campaign began with a smaller number of physicians listed, as our ads demonstrate: An ad from 1927 claims that 9,651 doctors answered “yes” to an arbitrary survey question released by the American Tobacco Company regarding protection of the throat. Another ad from 1927 lists 11,105 physicians as supporters. These “exact” numbers made the claim appear more reliable. Also included in this theme are two contemporaneous Chesterfield ads from 1931, one of which depicts a doctor actually prescribing Chesterfield cigarettes to a patient. These Chesterfield ads present no survey data. However, they attempt to trick careless consumers who quickly scan the ad by listing the total number of pharmacists (110,108) and the total number of physicians (152,503) in the U.S.A. These numbers have nothing to do with Chesterfield cigarettes, but at a quick glance they appear to reflect the numbers of pharmacists or physicians in support of Chesterfield cigarettes.