Early in the last century, questions about the health effects of smoking became a topic of widespread discussion, as terms like “smoker’s cough” and “coffin nails” (referring to cigarettes) began to appear in the popular vernacular. Recognizing the need to counter this threat to their livelihood, tobacco companies undertook a multifaceted campaign to allay the public’s fears. One strategy was to promote smoking as a beneficial practice through endorsements by healthy looking actors posing as medical professionals.
An exhibition of these images and materials is currently on display at the New York Public Library. With current tobacco products emblazoned with health risk warnings, these images reveal the power that advertising wields in shaping our perception and behavior.
An online version of the exhibit can be seen here