I got a tune stuck in my head the other day. It was the Winston cigarette jingle: “Winston tastes good like a (clap clap…).”
If you’re over 60, you know how it ends. If you fit the demographic, you could also complete these followings phrases: “LSMFT mean…,” “Come on over to the L&M, …,” and “Tarryton smokers would rather fight than…,”
How did you do?
Despite the obvious dangers of smoking, cigarette smoking and commercials were a part of our lives in the 1950s and 60s. Smoking has been around much longer but it became a popular trend for men after World War I and for women in the 1920s. Cigarette advertising in national magazines helped make smoking glamorous and sophisticated. It also helped turn about 42% of the nation’s adults into smokers by the late 1940s.
Some of the earliest TV shows were sponsored by tobacco companies and cigarette ads began to dominate the airwaves within ten years. A popular 1950’s trend was using celebrities to pitch cigarettes as part of the show. Desi Arnaz, Jedd Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) and even Fred Flinstone pitched cigarettes during their shows.
Search YouTube and you will find hundreds of cigarette commercials. Among the most popular ones are the Marlboro Man commercials that used the Magnificent Seven theme song. Of course, it’s hard to stop humming the Kent tune: “to a colonel - it’s a regiment, to a smoker - it’s a Kent.” The only way to stop humming the Kent song is to whistle the opening lines of this one: “You can take Salem out of the country but… you can’t take the country out of Salem.” For a smoking commercial, it makes no sense, but that doesn’t stop you from whistling along.
The jingles were catchy, but the ad copy bordered on ridiculous. For example, did you know that “in a national survey of doctors in all medical fields, it was found that more doctors smoked Camels than any other cigarette?” I learned that dentists recommended Viceroy cigarettes for a fresher breath and a medical report proved conclusively that Phillip Morris cigarettes helped eliminate throat irritation and scratchiness.
Chesterfields had “man-sized satisfaction” while Virginia Slims reminded women, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Lucky Strike encouraged smokers to “reach for a Lucky when tempted to overindulge.” A particularly offensive campaign used babies to push Marlboros (“Gee mom, you sure enjoy your Marlboro.”) Prior to his terms as president, Ronald Reagan pitched Pall Mall cigarettes by testifying that Pall Mall has a “He-Man aroma that wows the ladies and makes a difference for any studly guy.”
A public report in 1952 first linked cigarette smoking to cancer, but major anti-smoking campaigns didn’t show up for another 10+ years. Broadcasters were required to run one anti-smoking ad for every three cigarette in the late 1960s. Richard Nixon, a heavy pipe smoker, reluctantly signed legislation to end cigarette ads on TV in 1971. Ironically, the move freed tobacco companies to put more money in print advertising as anti-smoking ads disappeared from television.
Knowing what we do about the harms of smoking, it’s hard to look at smoking ads nostalgically, but there is little harm in humming along with the Marlboro Man.
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