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Lighting up a Warning

Today I received an investment email notice of stock upgrades and downgrades. In that upgrade list it showed that Raymond James had upgraded the stock of First Republic Bank. On the downgrade list, FIG Partners had issued a downgrade for…First Republic Bank. If you are a stock day trader,  I guess that’s about the time that you stare into your coffee for a special sign.

coffee sign

That brings me to another unusual mixed signal involving medicine, health and cigarettes. Plus, throw in a bit of turf-protecting from Big Tobacco.

Wouldn’t it be an eye catcher if the title of my blog had been “The benefits of smoking”. Yes, in fact there have been some claims that it fights obesity, and some studies have even linked smoking to lower risks of Parkinson’s disease (March 2010 Neurology journal) and possibly an indication that there is less of a chance of that a person would need knee-replacement surgery. (Australian study- July issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism) But, here are the real mixed signals!

During the 1920’s, the American Tobacco Company decided to be aggressive in their advertising for their popular Lucky Strikes cigarettes. ( They used print advertising with an image of a physician and the caption stating that “20,679 physicians say ‘Luckies are less irritating'”. The ad was created by their ad agency after physicians had received free cartons of the cigarettes in the mail from the company, and asked whether Lucky Strikes were less irritating to “sensitive and tender” throats. Part of the advertisement was the proclamation that these cigarettes were a smoother smoke because of the toasting process during the manufacturing of the cigarettes. Yep, “the toasting process”.

In the 1940’s RJ Reynolds Tobacco ran an unusual print ad endorsement.


This ad targeted women and appeared in several magazines including Time and Ladies’ Home Journal.  The intent was to show that if a doctor was enthusiastic about smoking, then it must be OK to smoke. Some doctors were even telling their patients the benefits of relaxation by smoking.

On January 11, 1964, Surgeon General Luther Terry announced the findings from the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. The conclusion: there was a link between lung cancer and chronic bronchitis and cigarette smoking.

Prior to this announcement in 1956, Surgeon General Leroy Burney had personally noticed the increase in lung cancer reports. It was particularly steep among smokers. As a smoker himself, he was particularly interested in the harms of smoking. Soon, studies showed what we know today. Burney issued an official statement that “excessive cigarette smoking is one of the causative factors of lung cancer”.

The tobacco industry was furious and fought any kind of warning or statement tying the two together. They funded their own study that denounced prior studies as a manipulation of statistics. Plus, they claimed that the studies were flawed because they lacked human testing with great numbers. The industry was concerned that warnings would shut them down with no sales.

With that as a backdrop, all warnings and statements about the harms of smoking had little impact on cigarette sales. People kept smoking and by 1981, annual cigarette consumption had peaked at 600 billion sold. The mixed signals of the harms of smoking had little effect.  At that time, nearly one in five American adults still smoked cigarettes. People apparently were not listening to the good or bad.

In 2005, tobacco companies entered into a settlement to remove tobacco ads from all school library magazines, as well as other limitations on smoking advertisements. Despite warnings and limitations on advertising, It is still estimated that more than 400,000 people per year still die relating to some illness related to the use of tobacco products. The only clear signal… People will smoke because they choose to smoke. All worries of Big Tobacco were a bit exaggerated.

friday smile

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