Kluger, 1996; Kozlowski et al., 2000b; Pollay 1989, Pollay and Dewhirst, 2000; Ringold and Calfee, 1989; Swedrock et al., 1999; U.S. DHHS, 1989, 1994, 1998; Warner, 1985). As shown in Table 3–1, the tobacco companies have appealed to health concerns of smokers at least since 1927. Claims about tar and nicotine levels appeared as early as 1942.
The federal government, primarily via the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has been involved in regulating tobacco marketing. The FTC is empowered by Congress to “prevent persons, partnerships, or corporations…from using unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce” (McAuliffe, 1988; OSH, 2000; U.S. DHHS, 1989). Using this authority, the FTC has undertaken several legal actions on health or medical claims made by tobacco companies. In 1942, for example, the FTC pressed Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation to stop making claims that Kool cigarettes, among other things, protected against colds and were soothing to the throat, and the company entered into a stipulation that it would refrain from doing so (FTC, 1942). As seen in Table 3–1, however, claims about Kools continued for several years after the 1942 stipulation.
The FTC also took legal action in the 1940s against claims that lower-tar cigarettes were beneficial (e.g., produced less throat irritation) (Cohen, 1996). These claims subsided. However, early in the 1950s, Consumer Reports published brand-specific tar and nicotine ratings. When claims increased, the FTC filed more suits against companies making claims about tar and nicotine levels. In September 1955, the FTC published “Cigarette Advertising Guides” that prohibited health claims (Cohen, 1996; Kozlowski, 2000b). Specifically, these guides prohibited claims about tar and nicotine that were not supported by “competent scientific proof” of a substantial (physiological) difference between brands (Cohen, 1996; McAuliffe, 1988).
The FTC explicitly stated that the guides would not prohibit statements about taste, flavor, aroma, or enjoyment (Kozlowski, 2000b). This led to the use of terms such as “mild,” “light,” and “smooth,” which likely were better advertising techniques than direct health claims. The health-protecting messages brought to mind the fact that protection was needed, raising anxiety in the smoker. However, terms such as mild, light, and smooth only suggested the concept of safety and did not bring to mind the health-compromising properties of the product. The industry received counsel in the 1950s from motivational researchers who advised companies against using verbally explicit health appeals and suggested more visual images (Pollay, 1989). A comment by Martineau (1957), cited by Pollay (1989), is highly relevant. Martineau stated that direct claims “may offer some reassurance for the inveterate smokers, but they do utterly nothing to widen the market…to make smoking seem reasonable, justifiable, and highly desirable” (see Box 3–1).