Do you remember the last time you saw a cigarette advertisement?
Fifty years ago, on 1 August 1965, television advertising of tobacco products was banned in the UK. America followed suit soon after with the Health Cigarette Smoking Act, signed by Richard Nixon on 1 April 1970. And six years later, Australia joined the club under PM Malcolm Fraser.
Up until this point, cigarette advertising was the single biggest money-spinner in the marketing and advertising industry. Nowadays the campaigns are anti smoking, showing the risks and consequences of the addictive habit.
But let’s jump back a few more years to understand why … it’s 1945 post war Australia, the government is running campaigns such as “populate or perish”, immigration is high on the agenda, and a packet of Camel cigarettes can be found in most households.
More than three out of every four men and one in every four women were regular smokers. Fast forward sixty years and the figures are well below 18 per cent of the population.
But why did the change take so long?
Two major social forces of the late 20th century kept cigarettes between our fingers.
First, the arrival of television in the late 1950s brought an avalanche of advertisements for cigarettes straight into family lounge rooms. These glorious black and white images distracted people from their concerns about cancer with images of European sophistication, American-style affluence and Australian sunshine and fun. These images resonated with the optimism and aspirations of a generation wanting to build a new life after two long decades of war and Depression. So they kept on puffing.
And then there was the new breed of advertising men in the United States (think the real Don Draper), Britain and Australia. They helped tobacco companies to side-step the health issue with appeals to emotion combined with reassuring, if vague allusions to filters and reductions in ‘tar’. Using thought-provoking words associated with harm reduction, such as mild, golden, light and fine. Cigarette smoking was seen as sexy, cool and the social norm.
The Hollywood-style television and magazine advertisements made the “cancer stick” seem like a need, not a want. The clever ads and product placement waged a war against the health warnings.
And Twiggy, her mini skirt and the Beatles brought the social and sexual revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. This era saw a rejection of conservative ‘older generation’ values such as worrying about financial security and future health, and many young women taking up smoking as a statement of independence and equality. Advertisements reflected this, using celebrities and catchy slogans to keep the consumer hooked and happy.
Thankfully, most of us have seen the light – and put down the lighter. Cigarettes no longer claim the cool factor thanks in a large part to the end of cigarette advertising that began fifty years ago.
What advertising would you like to see the end of?
Cheers, Jack & the c word crew