Mining the Internet Archive: Tobacco, history and controversy

European Union rules require member states to do something about indoor air pollution. European states are banning smoking in public places. Gone soon will be days when we can joke about Britons and their Player’s cigarettes, or the French and their Galois habits.

Every once in a while as I recount the great Tobacco/Health Wars, my kids remind me that they never saw a cigarette commercial on television. Once, we caught a showing of past ads, and I was truck nostalgic by Fred Flintstone’s testimony for Winston cigarettes — the kids gasped: “Fred Flintstone used to smoke!”

Everybody smoked, once upon a time, it seemed. 1940s and 1950s magazines have ads in which doctors and athletes claim cigarette smoking is either unharmful, sheer pleasure, or even health promoting. Got a cigarette cough? Switch to menthol cigarettes! Mouth burns? Try a filter cigarette.

Today, kids wonder why Virginia did so well selling tobacco to Britain — who in their right mind would have smoked? they ask.

The Internet Archive has an abundance of film material on tobacco. The films come from the University of California – San Francisco:

The University of California, San Francisco Tobacco Control Archives Multimedia Collection contains audiotapes and videotapes related to the advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific research of tobacco products as well as materials gathered and produced by tobacco control advocates. The UCSF Tobacco Industry Videos Collection includes some of the videos from the larger Multimedia Collection.

These films will require some editing for classroom use (on length alone), but one can view dozens of old Marlboro ads: “Come to Marlboro Country! [cue jingle] You get a lot to like in a Marlboro — filter, flavor, pack or box! [cue theme from “The Magnificent Seven”].” The television production is interesting to see; these ads for Marlboro, some of them, could almost as easily have been substituted for the old Ronald Reagan campaign ads, “It’s morning in America.” Cowboys on a brisk morning, off to work, saving foals with legs trapped in timber falls, smiling and enjoying the plains/mountains/snow/spring/autumn. Viewing the stuff uncut one gets a sense of how ad agencies used repetition of themes and statements, how they manipulated images when they could (look for reversals from one ad to the next, to better get the cowboys riding into the shot, or off to the right, which seemed to be preferred over riding off to the left of the viewer). These ads sell ambience, and wishes for youth, good health, a vigorous life — but all without making any such promises. It’s fun, too, to recall that brands like Marlboro and Chesterfield were once “ladies cigarettes,” whose branding for men turnaround is famous in advertising circles.*

The Internet Archive has an hour tape of Marlboro ads, 15-second to one-minute versions. Other brands have their own tapes, including Viceroy, Belaire, and Eclipse — brand names that mean little to most people under the age of 30. I did not find the old Here are the old Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble ads for Winston, but they may be there somewhere. One almost wishes someone would make a history of cigarette ads, one that might feature the old “Show us your Lark!” ads, followed by George Carlin’s comedy routine on the subliminal messages that might well be in those ad jingles and slogans.

The archive has a lot of material on the controversy about health effects, much of it from the cigarette company archives pried out during the litigation by the states’ attorneys general in the last decade or so. Many of the films were made for showing to company executives, I suppose, and they discuss the difficulties the cigarette and tobacco industries faced with increasing evidence of bad health effects.

“How They See Us, Parts I and II” is a real gem to us old warriors for good health. The premise is that news agencies and government agencies are being unduly swayed by do-gooders to ban tobacco — there is an interesting clip of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop (Reagan administration) in his grandfatherly best urging a campaign against cigarettes, while the tobacco industry announcer/anchor suggests Koop is dead wrong on the facts.

Early in this compilation there is a segment that produced high controversy at the time, in which Prof. John Banzhaf of George Washington University douses a tobacco industry spokesman with a glass of water — ostensibly to put out the man’s cigarette, which was being smoked in a television studio in violation of D.C. law. “Self defense” Banzhaf claims, as the older man goes after him with fist cocked. Banzhaf, from whom I took administrative law at George Washington, headed (and maybe still does) a group called Action for Smoking or Health (ASH), which campaigned militantly and sometimes creatively to stop cigarette companies from expanding their sales.

This film offers insights to the views on health care in the 1970s. It demonstrates how an industry can skew the news, carrying on a campaign of spreading doubt about scientific surety, much as creationists do today about evolution, and certainly as some energy companies have done against the information showing human actions behind global warming. It’s a good demonstration of propaganda techniques refined for use in a nation that has the First Amendment. The film might make good viewing in a high school class on civics or government, especially for a class on health, and perhaps for debate classes on the use of arguments

[If you do a Google search for “Tobacco Institute” today, you get a site that features documents turned over to the attorneys general in their suits against tobacco companies — I presume the old Tobacco Institute itself is long, long gone:

This website is designed to provide the public with access to documents produced by The Tobacco Institute in Attorney General reimbursement lawsuits and certain other specified civil actions, and to documents produced after October 23, 1998 through June 30, 2010 in smoking and health actions, and includes certain enhancements, all as provided for by paragraph IV of the Attorneys General Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).]

“Leaf” is a 1974 Tobacco Institute-sponsored film covering the history of tobacco and its role in agriculture, commerce and culture. In 16 minutes, it covers how to farm tobacco, hand-harvesting, curing and processing, with a focus on the small tobacco farmers whose lives, fortunes and plights were trotted out whenever Congress started to talk about controls on tobacco. The big profits of tobacco were in the processing, manufacturing and sale of cigarettes especially, cigars, and chewing tobacco and snuff.

The history segment, starting about five minutes in, ably relates the story of how John Rolf — Pocahontas’ husband — got some pirated Spanish Leaf seed and started the Virginia tobacco industry. It also covers the breeding of “burley” tobacco and its influence on the settling of states to the west of Virginia.

The film is so well done that teachers should be prepared to offer a counter case to the advantages of tobacco — yes, 2 million Americans had jobs in tobacco, and yes it was a $30 billion/year industry, but it kills an equal number yearly and costs nearly that amount in health care — to the point that our society has determined the costs outweigh the benefits. This particular film does not try to make a case that tobacco is not harmful. Among other things, students will see how labor intensive tobacco is, which was one of the chief factors for the defense of slavery in tobacco producing states.

Another film that covers much of the same territory is “Tobacco: From Seed to Pack,” a 1979 production from Phillip Morris. From the start, the pitch is on the plight of the small tobacco farmer, but with an attempt simply to show the process of growing tobacco. It ends making the case for the economic contributions of the tobacco industry to America: “That’s the way to create a successful industry, and 2 million jobs.” The film runs just under 16 minutes, though the tape transfer shows just under 20 minutes (there is about four minutes of blank video at the end).

I’d love to find films as well done on the farming of wheat, corn, soy, avocadoes, apples or other fruit, rice, and the production of steel, cars, and unfinished lumber, to mention a few — for use in history, geography and economics courses. I’d be doubly happy if they were free for school use.

In my schooling in Idaho and Utah, we saw a few travelogues, some produced by Old Gold Cigarettes. The films were straightforward travelogues, showing material that correlated with our classroom needs. But a film on Sun Valley, Idaho, for example, would pause in the middle of a summer parade sequence to show a handsome man reaching for this shirt pocket pack of Old Golds, and lighting up with a smile. Few of my third- and fourth-grade colleagues smoked, but many would go on to smoke later. Cigarette marketers were patient and thorough.

I haven’t found any of those old travelogue films.

3 Responses to Mining the Internet Archive: Tobacco, history and controversy

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  2. exsmoker says:

    Hello All,

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  3. Jude says:

    My dad smoked, although he quit when I was 8 years old. He was a singer with big bands, and he said it was always difficult for him to sing in smoke-filled rooms, even when he smoked. My mom never smoked (which is why she doesn’t look her age of 77 years old). I was happy when they banned cigarette advertising in part because the commercials were getting weirder and weirder. Now the weirdest commercials we have are for perfume. Thanks for all the links. For me, as one is allergic to smoke, the strangest thing was how long it took for smoking bans in public to take place. When my dad was dying of leukemia, we took him to a restaurant where I had to request that a cigar smoker stop smoking because there was no separate non-smoking area. That was in 1981. Now in Colorado, people are no longer allowed to smoke in bars or other public places, so they congregate outside at least 15 feet awway from the entrance.


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