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“We Lied”

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the turning point for the tobacco industry, when Surgeon General Luther Terry on Jan. 11, 1964 released the no holds barred report that said smoking caused illness and death, the nation’s tobacco companies and the federal government reached a landmark agreement.

Under the agreement with the Justice Department each of “tobacco’s big three” - Altria Group, owner of the biggest U.S. tobacco company, Phillip Morris USA, No. 2 cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and No. 3 cigarette maker Lorillard -are required to publish corrective statements that say the companies lied about the danger of smoking.

The “We Lied” full page ads will appear in the Sunday editions of 35 newspapers and on the newspapers’ web sites, as well as air prime-time TV spots on CBS, ABC or NBC five times per week for a year.

And yes, these ads will be quite different from the happy face cigarette advertising that many of us remember from the pages decades ago in the most popular national magazines – Life, Look, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post.

“I’m sending Chestefields to all my friends. That’s the merriest Christmas any smoker can have,” said the celebrity of the year, cigarette clenched between gleaming white teeth, surrounded by cartons of Chesterfields. Guess who? Ronald Reagan, movie star and future president of the United States.

And before the Marlboro cowboy galloped on the advertising scene there was the Marlboro baby. “Before you scold me mom,” said one after some household mishap, “maybe you better light up a Marlboro.” “Gee mommy, you sure enjoy your Marlboro,” said another cherub faced tyke. After all, babies are cute, so how can you ignore their messages.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were pitching Phillip Morris: “We smoke Phillip Morris, why don’t you?” Pall Mall told us to reward ourselves with the pleasure of smooth smoking. “Be happy, go Lucky,” said Lucky Strike. And we were reminded that the man who thinks for himself knows that only Viceroy has the smoking man’s taste.

“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” Whoa, what’s this? Just keep reading folks, this is serious scientific stuff. “Doctors in every branch of medicine were asked what cigarette they smoke. The brand named most was Camel.” So said the debonair looking doctor in a white lab coat, with the obligatory stethoscope dangling from his neck, cigarette held in his left hand.

Incredible advertising by today’s standards? Sure. Dishonest claims and blatant lies? You bet. But then again, truth in advertising was yet to be born… and yeah, decades later it all caught up with them.