Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Advertising & The Physician-Patient Relationship: Intro & Part I


In this series of reports, I will explore how advertising affects physician-patient relationships. At first, I intended to focus solely on pharmaceutical advertising by modern companies. Then I discovered the outlandish tobacco ads from the mid-1900’s and a wealth of literature describing their implications. I learned that exploitation of the trusted physician-patient relationship by commercial interests is hardly a new phenomenon. 

Tobacco Ads

“More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette”
“As Your Dentist, I Recommend Viceroys”
“20,679 Physicians say ‘LUCKIES are less irritating’”

vintage smoking posters

vintage smoking posters

Above are cigarette ad slogans from the 1930’s and 40’s. The medical community was faced with an awkward situation at the time. Physicians could no longer completely ignore the disturbing evidence that demonstrated tobacco’s association with cancer. Regardless, most physicians continued to smoke as they had done all their adult lives. Medical scientists in general were reluctant to accept causal relationships, which is an interesting contrast to our more reactionary modern times in which causal hypotheses are often accepted too quickly. Tobacco companies sought to renew public trust by aligning their products with doctors’ authority.

Lucky Strike and Philip Morris in particular used aggressive tactics to pursue physician endorsements. American Tobacco, the parent company of Lucky Strike, claimed support from 20,679 physicians based on the results of a survey in which they sent complimentary cartons of Lucky Strikes to physicians and “asked them to answer whether ‘Lucky Strike Cigarettes . . . are less irritating to sensitive and tender throats than other cigarettes.’” Philip Morris published advertisements in both medical journals and popular magazines claiming that their cigarettes were scientifically proven to be less irritating than other brands. By advertising in both medical and popular journals, Philip Morris swayed the opinions of both doctors and the public.

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By 1950, advertising health claims about cigarettes was no longer effective. The evidence linking tobacco and cancer was too strong. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) banned tobacco advertisements, and many physicians cut back on smoking or stopped entirely during the 1950’s. However, tobacco ads from the mid-1900’s may have set an important precedent for pharmaceutical advertising as we know it today. To be continued…



  1. Medicine and commercials... Never a good idea! Doctors should be informed to the point that they can make a decision without the patient requesting anything. In South Africa, you are not allowed to advertise for medical sales.

  2. Do you mean companies can't advertise to the public or to doctors? Or both?

  3. This all reminds me very much of Mad Men! It is worth noting that these same tactics of denial and obfuscation have been used repeatedly, all the way up to our modern tsunami of climate change denial (pun definitely intended). There is an interesting book called Merchants of Doubt that deals with this issue.

  4. I remember the Marlboro Man from '60s TV ads so clearly... and much more recently, I remember the swarm of smokers who used to congregate in various places (like the main portico of JUB) between classes. And now the e-cigs are in their ascendancy. The human oral fixation just doesn't seem very amenable to rational persuasion.

  5. Are you paying over $5 per pack of cigs? I'm buying my cigarettes over at Duty Free Depot and I save over 60% on cigs.