Hazards of Cigarette Smoking on Display at the New York Public Library
After his mother developed lung cancer, Dr. Robert Jackler’s scholarly interest in the tobacco industry became personal. The resultant exhibition “Not A Cough In A Carload: Images Used by Tobacco Companies to Hide the Hazards of Smoking,” is on display at the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) branch of the New York Public Library through December 26, 2008. The ads, from the 1920’s to date, can be viewed at www.tobacco.stanford.edu. They proclaim that their brand of cigarettes calm nerves, boost energy, aid in weight loss, and are not harmful because the tobacco is toasted or has added menthol.
Dr. Jackler, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at Stanford University, says of the tobacco industry “When they saw the public was worried, their response was [a] comprehensive campaign that went on for decades to reassure the public and to overcome what they increasingly knew was scientific evidence proving that cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease.”
When asked if there was any chance the tobacco industry genuinely believed their products to be safe, Dr. Jackler replied, “There is zero chance that they didn’t know. The website Legacy.library.ucsf.edu gets you [9.7 million] documents. It’s been known since the 19th century that cigarettes cause cancer. The ads were complete fraud.”
What would the tobacco industry say? “I think they would say, ‘yes we used to do that, but we don’t anymore.’ But they do. Ads today have the same messages: smoke and you’ll be vital, healthy and vigorous. You’ll be a maverick an individualist. They target youth, since they have a product that cuts off eight years of life. Maybe they can entice a few adults to change brands but that’s rare, people have fanatical brand loyalty. That’s why we see Camel #9—pink packaged cigarettes aimed at young girls, tobacco mixed with cocoa, honey or mint—these flavorings make it easy for young people to start.”
John Ganly, SIBL’s assistant director for collections, states the exhibit has “a very great importance, great information content for the tobacco and the advertising industry. The exhibition supports our mission—to provide business and technology information to the public.”
Mr. Ganly observes that the exhibition is best appreciated by those old enough to remember the ads. Another librarian elaborates, “These ads were so pervasive that going to this exhibition is like a walk through memory lane.” Ads include cultural icons Mickey Mantle, Lucille Ball, Ronald Reagan, and a 1951 artfully drawn smoking Santa Claus.
But what about those not old enough to remember? “Two thirds of children visit small stores every week. These tobacco advertising emporia near schools have been shown effective in fostering smoking initiation.” Dr. Jackler says, citing three recently published scientific studies.
Abraham Palma, Teen and Literacy Director of the Washington Heights YM-YWHA, is directing a new program in collaboration with the NYC Coalition for a Smoke Free City. “We are training teens to go to stores to talk to owners to see if they can remove or rearrange the ads because they are below eye level and the ones that see them are the little kids.” He plans to take the teens to the SIBL exhibition. Mr. Palma will first conduct a lesson preparing the Facebook generation for Lucy, but says the ads are “Very similar to what you see today. Smoking makes you a popular guy; it’s going to make you cool, always around some beautiful girl. It’s a wonderful idea to show them that things haven’t really changed all the way back to the 1920’s. That’s the message you want to give to kids.” #