By the time mom was ready to have her baby that everyone would know as Mary the cocktail parties had slowed considerably, mom had stopped dancing and she would sit next to dad on the couch while other couples would slosh around with a drink in one hand and a partner in the other; that is, the drinking was still going strong (but mom sipped something that looked and tasted like Coke that she let me sip and then sent me off to bed with Bunny), and only a few people were smoking.
They never told me when, but they told me how they both quit smoking – cold turkey, like everyone did before everyone thought smoking was an addictive behavior and the smoker was a victim of an evil drug called nicotine.
It was all made worse because cigarette companies cured the tobacco so that it was milder and people could inhale it more, and mechanized processes made it cheaper to make a pack, and then someone invented the safety match, and cigarette companies paid just about everyone to advertise their products.
Some doctors (the smart ones) started to worry so in the 1950’s the Public Health Service started telling people that smoking cigarettes could give you heart disease, lung cancer, cancer of the mouth, esophageal cancer (or it would be easier to say just about any kind of cancer, since that’s the point), asthma (that would be preferable to cancer, I’m guessing), respiratory problems like bronchitis and emphysema, decreased pulmonary function (meaning you’d run out of breath dancing in our living room), and intrauterine growth retardation and the corresponding low birth weight (I was almost nine pounds so either mom didn’t smoke when she was pregnant with me or I would have been fourteen pounds at birth unless she had). In 1957 Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney said, “The Public Health Service feels the weight of the evidence is increasingly pointing in one direction; that excessive smoking is one of the causative factors in lung cancer.” And it was that word, “excessive,” that was the out for those who kept smoking – the too much of a good thing can kill you, kind of logic.
You see, it wouldn’t be scary if the chances of getting cancer from smoking were relatively low, especially since four out of ten young adult Americans smoked in the 1950’s, but people started smoking more and more – from three thousand cigarettes per year per smoker in 1950 to nearly four thousand per year per smoker in 1960.
And people started dying more and more (at a pack-a-day plus, it was unavoidable). Even though everyone died eventually, chances were 70% higher that if you were a smoker you’d die of cancer, younger and sooner. So if you wanted to live, or just improve your quality of life, you had to buck the trend and quit (as in, just stop – cold turkey) smoking. As a result, chewing gum companies made a mint, and cigarette companies countered with a smoking = quality of life campaign, like the one for Camel’s in the 50’s,
The thorough test of any cigarette is steady smoking. Smoke only Camels for the next thirty days… And see how mild Camels are, pack after pack… how well they agree with your throat as you steady smoke. See if you don’t find Camel more enjoyable than any other cigarette you’ve ever smoked.
And Rock Hudson said, “I’ve tried ‘em all, but it’s Camels for me! Why? Because, There is more pure pleasure in Camels! More flavor, genuine mildness! Good reasons why today more people smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” And the ad from 1956 ended with, Remember this: pleasure helps your disposition. “And for more pleasure – have a Camel!” Who could argue with that?!
Arguing with that, or with people in general, was also attributed to poor quality cigarettes or the lack of cigarettes altogether, so another Camel ad read,
MAD AS A WET HEN? That’s natural when little annoyances ruffle you. But the psychological fact is: pleasure helps your disposition. That’s why everyday pleasures, like smoking for instance, are important. If you’re a smoker, you’re wise to choose the cigarette that gives the most pleasure. And that’s a Camel!
It seems that the Camel people had stumbled onto something. And they weren’t alone. Chesterfield went sexy and smoky in their ads in the 50’s; like, “PACKS MORE PLEASURE – because it’s More Perfectly Packed. Firm and pleasing to the lips…mild yet deeply satisfying to the taste – Chesterfield satisfies the most.”
And there was a picture of a busty, firm woman with bright red lips sucking on the phallic cigarette, cheeks drawn in, eyes rolled up just a bit. Chesterfield even had a Girl of the Month before Playboy had the centerfold. They might as well have portrayed a spent male and a rosy cheeked model tucked beneath bed sheets, puffing away at their Chesterfields looking like the afterglow of orgasm. Smoking was sexy, and linking it with sex, sexuality, having sex, or just having had sex, sold cigarettes.
For people who actually quit smoking in the 1950’s didn’t seem to think of it as a great burden. They didn’t require the sympathy of their culture, no detoxification, no fits of addictive withdrawal, no support groups, and no cigarettes (just second-hand smoke which they still enjoyed).
From the Journal of the American Medical Association to Reader’s Digest and its abridged version of Roy Norr’s newsletter, “Cancer by the Carton,” everyone was starting to be told that people were dying because they were smoking. And people started to get the message, but so did the cigarette companies. So, if you wanted to quit because of the health concerns but didn’t really want to give up the pleasure and relaxation of smoking the cigarette companies had an alternative for you: filters! In 1950 less than 2% of cigarettes were filtered, and by 1960 it was more than half of all cigarettes. So,
Winston smokers believe that smoking should be fun. That means real flavor – full, rich, tobacco flavor – and Winston’s really got it! This filter cigarette tastes good – like a cigarette should! Along with Winston’s filter flavor, you get a filter that really does the job. The exclusive Winston filter works so effectively, yet lets you draw so easily and enjoy yourself so fully.
Cigarette companies called filter tipped cigarettes “less harmful” and “smoother too,” and said the filters trapped the dangerous stuff that killed you but let the flavor through (but they had to use harsher tobacco so the filtered smoke would still taste like the good old days smoke that killed you right up front without a mediator). And everyone believed them; kind of like selling death to someone as “less harmful” and “smoother” at the same time. After the Public Health Service said cigarettes would kill you and ruin what life you had left, more people ended up smoking in America by the end of the 1950’s. So the Surgeon General had to really go after the problem and released the infamous January 11, 1964 report, supported by an advisory committee of over a hundred doctors, from Drs. Ackerman to Zukel, saying,
In the early part of the 16th century, soon after the introduction of tobacco into Spain and England by explorers returning from the New World, controversy developed from differing opinions as to the effects of the human use of the leaf and products derived from it by combustion or other means.
Pipe-smoking, chewing. and snuffing of tobacco were praised for pleasurable and reputed medicinal actions. At the same time, smoking was condemned as a foul-smelling, loathsome custom, harmful to the brain and lungs. The chief question was then as it is now: is the use of tobacco bad or good for health, or devoid of effects on health?
It was pretty gusty, considering that the Surgeon General was about to tell half of the adults in America that something they were doing, something they did everywhere they went – at baseball games and parties, at home and work, in restaurants, parks, trains, cars, cabs, buses, bars and bedrooms, with drinks, after dinner, after sex – was not only bad for them, but also bad for America.
At the time smoking – why you did it and how you quit doing it – was all a matter of character, of will power, of what kind of person you were. There was no clearly unique personality of a smoker (probably because one-third of all adult women and two-thirds of all males were smokers in the 1950’s so the personality type would have been simply your average American). The Surgeon General’s report put it this way,
Nonetheless, there are many, though not always clear, relationships between smoking and a variety of social end economic variables. Taken altogether, there emerges the picture of smoking as a behavior that has over many years become tied closely to many of the complexities of our present society.
There can be no doubt that smoking as a habit is determined in some measure by a variety of such social forces as are reflected in demographic data of the kind reviewed above.
But it will be some time before the specific interrelations can be disentangled. Since man is not a passive target of such forces but an active participant, no possible explanation can omit consideration of the way in which he reacts to and, in turn, creates such forces, in short, a consideration of personality factors.
You see, it’s about will-power, about what kind of people Americans are; and in the 50’s the American aphrodisiac was will-power. Americans are not victims, we’re not addicts, and we’re not bad people. And by the early 60’s, when smokers gave reasons for quitting, few of them said they were afraid of cancer.
They explained their choices with macho reasons like, “Because I wanted to” or “Because I just didn’t like the taste of smoking” or “Because I didn’t like spending so much of my money on cigarettes.” It was personal and the Surgeon General made it even more so when his report said that parents were killing their kids because more kids took up smoking when mom and dad smoked.
Killing their own kids! Kids also started smoking in order to seem more grown-up, and some did it to spite mom and dad. Both had the same motivation – acting like equals with parents.
Mom and dad explained that they smoked to relax themselves, to relieve stress (or maybe just to show other people they were under a lot of stress and pretend to be more important than they were – no one figured that one out either), or to lose weight – dieting to death, so to speak.
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