A carton of lies
By SARAH C.P. WILLIAMS
Robert Jackler, MD, professor and chair of otolaryngology, gestures toward the glossy 1940s cigarette ad. You first notice a microscope, front and center. A man in a white doctor’s lab coat leans over the device. And smoke spirals up from the cigarette he casually holds. “Always Buy Chesterfields,” the advertisement reads.
“It’s never a specific doctor,” Jackler says, as he explains the ad. “It’s always just the image of the perfect doctor. The wise and benign physician.”
During the summer of 2006, Robert Jackler and his wife, artist Laurie Jackler, started collecting old magazine ads that used pseudoscience and medical imagery to sell cigarettes.
“We started out with a few of them,” says Robert Jackler. “I put them up in my office and they became conversation starters.”
Shortly after buying these first ads on eBay, Robert Jackler’s mother, a longtime smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Motivated by this personal connection, the Jacklers’ fascination with smoking ads turned from a hobby into a campaign with a lofty mission. They ended up with hundreds of ads and an exhibit that went on display at Lane Medical Library in February.
“Our message is really about deception,” Robert Jackler says. “It’s about the willingness of the industry to sell at any cost. These are merchants of death.”
Some ads show spectacled scientists peering through microscopes, others show bright-eyed doctors surrounded by children. All proclaim health benefits of smoking and cite medical statistics that the Jacklers called “completely bogus.”
“Made especially to prevent sore throats,” reads an ad for Craven A cigarettes. “Doctors agree that Kools are soothing to your throat,” says another image.
The advertisements range in date from 1927 to 1954, and come from such publications as Life and The Saturday Evening Post. The Jacklers scanned the yellowed and fading ads into their computer and digitally enhanced them to restore their original vibrancy.
The Jacklers, along with Robert Proctor, PhD, a Stanford professor of the history of science, are creating a book of the images to spread their message and raise money for lung cancer research.
Proctor, who has studied the history of the tobacco industry for more than 20 years and has his own collection of ads, is outspoken about the tactics used in the advertising. He talks about the industry’s campaign to “manufacture doubt,” a well-funded strategy to insinuate uncertainty about the hazards of smoking.
“We want people to see the audacity and depravity of the industry,” says Proctor, adding that the misleading advertising still exists today, just in a different form.
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