Smoking Hazards on Cigarette Advertising
By Jessica Savage
History of Health Issues and Government Restrictions
Prior to the 1930's fairly little was known about
the health problems that are caused
by cigarettes. In the 1920's cigarette ads actually claimed to be
"doctor recommended" and "good for digestion." Then in 1932 the
American Journal of Cancer published a paper relating cigarettes to cancer.
After that paper there was a wave of research and papers that served to
solidify the health concerns about cigarettes. One of the major
papers that brought the health concerns to the public was the 1957 article
published in Reader's Digest. After that article, the Surgeon General
became involved in the issue and by 1964 he had filed an official report
connecting cigarettes to cancer. In 1966, the first warning labels
came into appearance as a result of the Surgeon General's actions.
Then in 1971, the Smoking Act was passed by Congress, which corresponded
with the TV ban of cigarette commercials and additional restrictions for
warning labels. Gradually more government
and private agencies became involved in the fight against tobacco and
in the 1970's the cigarette companies themselves began competing for a
"healthier" cigarette. In a matter of forty years, the image of
cigarettes had changed completely and in 1973, Arizona was the first state
to ban cigarettes in public spaces. Further restrictions were made
in 1984 as new warning labels were required on cigarette packaging.
Then the ultimate change occurred in 1993, when the EPA recognized that
second hand smoke could cause cancer. The issue of smoking had finally
changed from one of personal choice to one of injuring others. As
a result, tobacco companies had to adjust to being considered a "dangerous"
Tobacco Industry's Response
The initial reaction of the tobacco industry to the accusations
that cigarettes are detrimental to one's health, was to directly comment
on health issues and question the validity of the studies. In 1951
when the American Cancer Society published a paper, the percent of cigarette
ads in Time relating to health issues was 44%. Then in response
to another article published in 1953, the percent was up to 87%.
During the year in between, 1952, there were no cigarette ads that dealt
with health issues in Time (1).
This initial reaction led way to one of the major strategies that
tobacco companies have used in marketing their product
in the light of health concerns. This method involves the search
for the "healthy" cigarette. Originally, this battle between cigarette
companies took place with the adoption of filters. In 1952
only 1.3% of all cigarettes had filters and by 1956, over 25% of them
had filters (1). Some companies also took filters to another level
as they advertised for "better" filters or "recessed tips," which supposedly
were "healthier" even though recent studies have showed otherwise.
Philip Morris did this with several of its brands as it advertised its
special filters including
its "Selectrate Filter" used in Marlboro cigarettes.
The next wave in finding a "healthy" cigarette was what is often referred
to as the "Tar Wars." This occurred in the 1970's when companies
battled for the lowest tar cigarette. Marlboro
even took place in this battle as it created "Marlboro Lights"
in the 1970's.
A Little Danger and Adventure - changing the emphasis of cigarette
first change in cigarette ads was a move away from emphasizing what people
were worried about, the actual act of smoking. Gradually
over the decade, there has not only been the disappearance of cigarette
smoke in ads, but the disappearance of the cigarette itself in ads.
Cigarettes changed from the main object of concentration, to an accessory
(usually just to hold and not smoke), to being nonexistent in most modern
cigarette ads. This progression can be seen especially with the
Marlboro Man Campaign.
that the cigarette itself has lost emphasis in ads has been in the reduction
of the prominence of the cigarette box in the ads. In the 1960's
and 1970's the cigarette packs in Marlboro ads were large. In the
1960's the cigarette boxes were separated from the picture as they were
positioned under the picture on a white background. Gradually, the
cigarette packs became more integrated into the picture in the 1970's.
Then by the 1990's the cigarette box had either disappeared or been reduced
to a mere representational picture which functioned more as a logo than
a demonstration of the product. The two pictures below both have
the same scale and show the massive reduction in the prominence of the
cigarette pack in the ads.
An obvious product pictured in the ad. (1971)
A little smaller, and less obvious. (2000)
was a move away from emphasizing the cigarette, something else had to
become central to tobacco company's ad campaigns. Luckily,
Marlboro had established its Marlboro Man campaign before the big changes
were made in the industry relating to health issues.
many companies did was concentrate more on the "positive" aspects of smoking.
This included an emphasis on satisfaction and taste.
Interestingly enough, Marlboro had already established a campaign based
on taste. "Come to where the flavor is" was a slogan used throughout the
Marlboro Man campaign.
On the other hand, it is obvious that it is not just "flavor" that is
being sold by Marlboro cigarettes. This is where the real ingenuity
of the Marlboro campaign comes in. Marlboro ads
do not need to sell a product because they sell an "image".
Many cigarette companies have changed their techniques to appeal to consumers
through a sense of adventure, risk or danger, something which Marlboro
had already had pre established. If the whole appeal of the product
is the "rebellious" and "free" nature of the cowboy, then it does not
seem that far of a jump to sell a "dangerous" product. The idea
of smoking becomes linked with the idea of "freedom"
and personal choice. Therefore, any attacks made on smoking become
an issue of losing freedom and the government interfering in the personal
choices of the people.
When the dangers of cigarette smoking became more widely known, the
tobacco industry was faced with a difficult challenge. They needed
to learn how to sell a "dangerous" product. Marlboro cigarettes
were able to adjust very well to the changes on many levels. They
were not only some of the original filter cigarettes but they even produced
a low tar cigarette in the 1970's. Yet, the most important aspect
of their campaign that they worked on was the image
of the Marlboro Man. A cowboy who not only envelopes ideal of autonomy
and nostalgia but also entices a bit of rebellion. In such a situation,
it is not difficult for Philip Morris to shift their emphasis from the
actual act of smoking to an "image" of rebellion. As a result, a
"dangerous" product actually gains its popularity because of the risk
involved in using it.
(1) Warner, Kenneth. "Tobacco Industry Response to Public Health
Concer: A Content Analysis of Cigarette Ads." Health Education Quarterly.
12 (2) p 115-127.