Recognizing Propaganda

Recognizing Propaganda

[Click on the link above.]

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (1950)

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (1950)

One common technique used by the tobacco industry to sell cigarettes to a worried public was to incorporate images of physicians in their ads. The none-too-subtle message was that if the doctor, with all of his expertise, chose to smoke a particular brand, then it must be safe. Unlike with celebrity and athlete endorsers, the doctors depicted were never specific individuals, because physicians who engaged in advertising would risk losing their license. (It was contrary to accepted medical ethics at the time for doctors to advertise.)

Instead, the images always presented an idealized physician – wise, noble, and caring – who enthusiastically partook of the smoking habit. All of the “doctors” in these ads came out of central casting from among actors dressed up to look like doctors. Little protest was heard from the medical community or organized medicine, perhaps because the images showed the profession in a highly favorable light. This genre of ads regularly appeared in medical journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, an organization which for decades collaborated closely with the industry. The big push to document health hazards also did not arrive until later.