Up In Smoke

01.20.14

Big Tobacco’s Biggest Lies

The four biggest firms have been ordered to publish admissions of guilt. Here’s a sample of the most deceptive (and clever) ways they marketed smokes.

Big tobacco thrives off deception and very clever marketing

The industry that makes money from obfuscating the truth has been recently forced to fess up. A U.S. District Judge ordered four major tobacco companies to publish admission statements making clear that they had lied in the past and present the recognitions of guilt in both newspapers and television networks. The advertisement campaign is set to begin after the companies’ appeals are over.

This moment has been in the making for a long time, as tobacco companies have perpetuated fraudulent claims about their products for nearly as long as the products themselves have been on the shelves.

“Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet:” In the early 1930s, Lucky Strike marketed their cigarettes to women as an appetite suppressant. The bottom of the advertisement read “Your throat protection—against irritation—against cough.” The candy industry protested the campaign for attempting to draw customers away from their industry and there is the implication that the ad is also marketing to children who may be more inclined to eat candy than pick up a smoke.

Physician Endorsements: Lucky Strike would later address the inherent health concern of their own product by purporting that “20,679 physicians” said that Luckies were less harmful to the consumer’s throat than other cigarettes.

Fred and Barney light up and watch Wilma mow the lawn

“More Doctors Smoke Camels:” In an attempt to remain competitive in the marketplace with Lucky Strike, Camel began an ad campaign in the 1940s alleging that doctors gravitate towards Camel products. If the doctor smokes them, it must be safe!

Winston and the Flintstones: The Flintstones aired on ABC beginning in the fall of 1960. During its first season, Winston cigarettes, a fairly new brand at the time, sponsored an advertisement in which Fred and Barney light up and watch Wilma mow the lawn.

Cigarettes With Coupons: Raleigh cigarettes, one of the brands under the umbrella of Brown and Williamson, a subsidiary of massive British American Tobacco, marketed its product to housewives by including coupons and incentivizing them to use them for any items they may need to tend to the lawn or clean the kitchen. In 1962, apparently women only smoked and did yard work.

“Either Quit or Smoke True:” By the 1970s, when it was common knowledge that cigarettes had detrimental health effects, companies like True, marketed their products with this information implicit in the ad. One of their campaigns includes a woman considering the options she has to retain a healthy lifestyle as a smoker. One choice is to quit and the other is to, well, just try True cigarettes.

Joe Camel: For about a decade beginning in 1987, Camel started to market its products using a mascot called “Old Joe.” Joe would often appear looking suave or cool in various brightly colored situations - as cool as a man with a camel face can look. The cartoonish nature of the advertisements drew criticism for subconsciously appealing to children. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 1991 showing that at the age of six, almost as many children could correctly associate Old Joe with Camel as they could Mickey Mouse with Disney.

Ads for Cigarettes With No Cigarettes in Sight: Tobacco companies still broadcast advertisements for their products, but they are few and far between. Even when the occasional ad makes it to the airwaves, sometimes the product itself isn’t even shown. The Bentoel Group, a division of British American Tobacco, produced an ad in 2013 for Dunhill cigarettes, in which the product is compared to fine cooking but no one is shown actually smoking a cigarette. The ad was made for an Indonesian market where it is permissible to broadcast commercials for cigarettes, but actually displaying the packaging itself is against the law.

The E-Cig Boom: Blu, one of the larger companies that produces e-cigarettes is marketing their product with celebrity endorsements like semi-recognizable Stephen Dorff. The ad featuring Dorff presents e-cigarettes as a way to get an individual’s freedom back, a method of shirking the institutional disavowal of public smoking. It can even be done at basketball games!