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Doctors smoking? New exhibit displays now-startling ads

In response to views that cigarettes were unhealthful, tobacco companies used images of medical professionals to sell their products.

A physician smiling at a pack of cigarettes, a nurse lighting up, a dentist recommending a tobacco brand -- the advertisements featured in a current National Museum of American History exhibit, "More Doctors Smoke Camels," don't explicitly state that smoking is good for you, but the message is clear.

In the first half of the last century, tobacco companies ran "a huge number of health reassurance ads," said Robert Jackler, MD, professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. "It was a response to a public that was starting to worry about the health consequences of smoking."

The ads hail from Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, which Jackler founded in 2007 after his mother, a smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. SRITA collects marketing materials from tobacco companies and produces research on the industry's promotional activities.

Jackler and his wife, Laurie Jackler, have been collaborating with the Smithsonian for over a decade and have donated some 50,000 original tobacco advertisements to the museum's collection. They worked with Smithsonian designers to create the exhibit, which opened April 5 in Washington, D.C., and will run through September, possibly longer.

Jackler decided to focus on the ads that featured medical personnel: "The idea was to show a variety of images that people would immediately know were wrong," he said.

He added that he's pleased the exhibit will run through the summer, when many families will be on vacation and visiting the museum in Washington, D.C. "We want parents to talk with kids about it, to show their kids how to recognize the lies and think beyond the advertisement's message."

He said that educating children and teens is especially important now, with Juul, the electronic cigarette maker, aiming its marketing at young people. "What the tobacco industry is doing today is little different from what it was doing back then," he said.

SRITA maintains an extensive online collection of tobacco advertisements. View more ads of doctors, nurses and dentists smoking as well as ads in medical journals.

Images from the collection of Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising

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