More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette. For over eight years, in a variety of national magazines and on the radio, the message was relentless. Doctors smoke Camels, and you should, too.
The Camel ad campaign began in 1946 and ran through 1954. Images featured doctors – both male and a few female – consulting with patients, or sitting at desks, or busily on rounds. The message was relentlessly the same and almost never varied from ad to ad:
“Family physicians, surgeons, diagnosticians, nose and throat specialists, doctors in every branch of medicine… a total of 113,597 doctors… were asked the question: ‘What cigarette do you smoke?’ And more of them named Camel as their smoke than any other cigarette! Three independent research groups found this to be a fact. You see, doctors too smoke for pleasure. That full Camel flavor is just as appealing to a doctor’s taste as to yours… that marvelous Camel mildness means just as much to his throat as to yours.”
The ads promoted Camels in a couple of ways: doctors (who are just people, too!) looking to relax and enjoy a quiet, enjoyable break, doctors who reassured their patients to take the Camel “T-Test” (T for Taste and T for Throat – the better tasting cigarette which also did not cause the throat irritation of lesser cigarettes).
The history of cigarette promotion is a tortured one. The cigarette industry has actively promoted use by soldiers, going so far as to partnering with the US military to include cigarettes as part of rations. Cigarettes became a de facto currency on both the battlefield and as a friendship offering (Hershey bar and a pack of Lucky Strikes anyone?). In fact, until 1975, cigarettes were included in military-issued rations for each soldiers. Uncle Sam wants you! (to smoke, evidentally)
On the home front, cigarettes were promoted with cartoons and in comics. The ad shown above included a coupon for a free 36-page illustrated magic trick book. Just send along the front of 5 packs of Camel cigarettes. I can’t imagine this promotion appealing to the average 40 year old. A twelve year old? You betcha.
Movies routinely showed stars smoking – sometimes at pivotal plot moments (remember the end of “Now Voyager” with Bette Davis? Happiness achieved one cigarette at a time.) Television was no better; smokey rooms and smoking actors.
So…if everyone was smoking, why did it matter if Camels (and other cigarette companies) had doctors plugging their products? Through the 1950′s, reports began to circulate about the dangers of cigarette smoking. As early as 1957, there was a clear link between smoking and lung cancer. To stem the rising tide of health concerns – who better to promote cigarettes than the face of health care for most people – doctors! If doctors said that they smoked, then maybe all those stories about health problems from cigarettes were just lies. If doctors talked about relaxing with a cigarette, then what could possibly be wrong with smoking?
So…let’s take off our 2012 glasses and put on our 1950′s glasses. In the 1940′s, cigarettes were seen as a harmless way to relax. Soldiers were given them to take the edge off and for a short escape from the battlefield. The connection between cigarettes and health problems was still years off. In the 1950′s, the first reports began circulating that proved a connection between cigarettes and cancer. It wasn’t until 1964 that the US Surgeon General finally issued a report that concluded that “excessive cigarette smoking” caused lung cancer.
By that time, doctors had stopped hawking cigarettes. But the ill effects lingered on for years.