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Big Chuck

February 15, 2010

I Was Just Thinking: Smoking wasn't always taboo

Recently I had a chance to visit with the "younger set" for a while. A set, unfortunately, that is getting much, much younger, or I am getting much, much older.

A funny thing came up: TV cigarette advertising.

Could it really be that you would have to be in your 40s to remember TV cigarette ads? I did a little research.

The last cigarette ad before something called the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1972 went into effect aired during a show I am sure I was watching at the time.

It was for Virginia Slims ("You've Come a Long Way, Baby"), and it happened at 11:59 p.m on Jan. 2, 1971, during a commercial break on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." Funny, but I bet you anything when the show returned, Johnny was puffing away behind his desk.

In any case, the youngsters in the group looked up at me and said: "Tell us, Chuck. What was it like?" The cigarette ads, they meant. They might as well have been saying: "Tell us what it was like, Old Timer, you know, before electricity or indoor plumbing." It was simply that absurd to describe.

One cigarette brand, Lark, had a series of commercials declaring: "Show us your Lark packs!" We were led to believe that as a car rolled down a busy street with someone holding up a sign, that ordinary citizens (housewives, construction workers, bankers, etc.) would quickly rummage through their pockets or pocketbooks and then proudly hold up their packs of Lark cigarettes. It was Fellini-esque.

I told the group about another brand, Tareyton, which blazed new advertising horizons with the grammatically incorrect blather: "Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch!"

I explained that the slogan was accompanied by a doofus (male or female) with a black eye who, in theory, duked it out with a fellow smoker over brand choice. It was American Tobacco Company's most-successful cigarette ad. The idea of slugging strangers because of the cigarette they smoked left my young listeners horrified.

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Big Chuck

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