The Power of Advertisers (Article)

I was perusing my CDC weekly mortality and morbidity report a few weeks ago, and I saw an interesting statistical graph: smoking by occupation in the U.S. As we have talked about many times in this blog, smoking rates have been–and continue to–decline in the United States, thank goodness. Currently 20% of the population smokes, down from 50% during my childhood years. As you can see in the graph, the CDC has further broken down smoking by occupation, and I am happy to report that healthcare and social assistance occupations were the lowest group of smokers by percentage, currently at 16%.

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Just a few decades ago, the picture of the healthcare industry’s relationship with smoking was a very different one. Just take a look at these ads featuring doctors, babies, mothers, and cigarettes. Engaging pictures of distinguished looking doctors, cute babies, and young vital, attractive mothers were used to endorse cigarettes. A careful examination of the message in these ads to me revealed two essential messages:

1.  Loving, kind, respected, attractive people around you want you to smoke.

2.  The advertisers of particular brand of cigarette claiming that their brand is less “irritating” than the other brands.

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In other words, the makers of cigarettes knew, long before the devastating effects of tobacco smoke were fully understood, that some cigarettes were less likely to make smokers sick than others.

Oh, what a difference a few decades can make in behavior and attitude. I think we can conclude from all this information that the anti-smoking campaign, waged in the past 50 years, has been extremely effective. These new statistics once again reveal how effectively advertising can change behavior. Remember the government tobacco settlement with cigarette makers just a few years ago? Tobacco companies were forced to turn over a staggering amount of money to be spent mostly on anti-smoking advertising. I think we have to admit that these ads seemed to have worked. Negative images and messages about tobacco have had a big impact on our behavior, especially the behavior of healthcare workers and children. Isn’t it wonderful that without banning the sale or use of tobacco, a little negative advertising could convince so many millions of Americans not to sicken themselves by using tobacco? America: for our children’s sake, let’s not stop until we are completely tobacco free.

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Smo Notes: