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Day 24 of Our 31 Day Series of How Medicine Got It Wrong

Doctors Promoting Cigarettes: A Dark Chapter in Medical History

It is hard to imagine now, but there was a time when doctors were actually promoting cigarettes as a healthy habit. From the 1930s to the 1950s, cigarette companies paid doctors to endorse their brands, often using pictures of physicians in white coats in their ads. These doctors claimed that smoking was good for the throat, helped digestion, and even improved lung health. How did this happen, and what can we learn from it?

The rise of cigarette advertising

The 20th century saw a massive increase in cigarette smoking, thanks in part to the aggressive marketing tactics of tobacco companies. These companies spent millions of dollars on advertising campaigns, featuring glamorous models, catchy slogans, and, surprisingly, medical professionals. Doctors were seen as authorities on health, and their endorsement of cigarettes gave the products an air of credibility.

In the early days of cigarette advertising, companies made outlandish claims about the health benefits of smoking. For example, one brand claimed that its cigarettes were good for the throat, while another claimed they were good for digestion. These claims were not backed up by any scientific evidence, but they were effective in persuading people to try smoking.

The involvement of doctors

As cigarette companies expanded their advertising efforts, they began to enlist the help of medical professionals. Doctors were paid to endorse specific brands of cigarettes, often claiming that they were "less irritating" or "safer" than other brands. Some doctors even claimed that smoking was good for the lungs, saying that it increased oxygen intake.

The involvement of doctors in cigarette advertising was not limited to endorsements. Tobacco companies also funded medical research that downplayed the risks of smoking. In some cases, researchers were paid to produce studies that showed no link between smoking and lung cancer, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

The backlash

Eventually, the truth about the dangers of smoking could no longer be ignored. In the 1950s, studies began to link smoking to lung cancer and other serious health problems. As more and more evidence came to light, the public began to turn against cigarettes. In response, cigarette companies changed their marketing strategies, focusing on lifestyle and image rather than health claims.

Today, it is widely understood that smoking is a major risk factor for many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses. The idea of a doctor promoting cigarettes is almost unthinkable. However, the legacy of tobacco industry influence on the medical profession lives on, as evidenced by ongoing debates about the role of pharmaceutical companies in medical research.


The story of doctors promoting cigarettes is a dark chapter in the history of medicine. It serves as a reminder of the dangers of corporate influence on the medical profession and the importance of evidence-based research. While it may seem unthinkable now, it is important to remain vigilant against the influence of industries that put profit over public health. As we move forward, we must continue to prioritize the health and well-being of individuals over the interests of corporations.

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  2. Glantz, S. A., & Slade, J. (1995). The tobacco industry's influence on the health professions. Journal of the American Medical Association, 273(9), 684-691.

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  4. Proctor, R. N. (2012). Golden holocaust: origins of the cigarette catastrophe and the case for abolition. University of California Press.

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