Collection: Doctors Hawk Cigarettes
In the first half of the 20th century, tobacco companies were forthright with their health claims, featuring doctors hawking cigarettes or cigars in many of their ads. Consumers who saw these ads were made to feel that they would be following the doctor’s orders to achieve health or fitness if they were to smoke the cigarettes advertised. Today, these nefarious health claims in tobacco ads are no longer so obvious; now, often words like “pleasure” or “alive” are keywords which indicate healthfulness. Doctors are no longer represented hawking cigarettes in ads, but the past audacity of tobacco companies is just as relevant in modern times.
At the time when many of these ads were printed, the public was worried about throat irritation due to smoking, and tobacco companies hoped that support from physicians would ease general concern. The none-too-subtle message was that if the throat doctor, with all of his expertise, recommended a particular brand, then it must be safe. Unlike with celebrity and athlete endorsers, the doctors depicted were almost 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, but that did not deter tobacco companies from hiring handsome talent, dressing them up to look like doctors, and printing their photographs alongside recommendations. These images always presented an idealized physician – wise, noble, and caring. 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 appear until later.
In this theme, countless brands depict doctors hawking tobacco products in order to present the brand as healthful rather than harmful – An early Old Gold ad shows a doctor lighting a woman’s cigarette as a “prescription for pleasure” (1938), Viceroy depicts doctors recommending the Viceroy brand (1950, 1953), and countless depictions of doctors recommend Ricoro, Gerard, or other brands of cigars. It is ironic that in the process, they all manage to reveal the negative potential of tobacco by providing the consumer with the concept of an unhealthy cigarette or cigar in the first place.