cigarettes healthy

When cigarettes were healthy for you!

I grew up in a haze of blue smoke in the 1970s generated by a chain smoking father. He’d started puffing at least twenty years before when advertising campaigns by tobacco manufacturers asserted that cigarettes were healthy for you.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, ads in magazines and newspapers often included family doctors announcing what brand they preferred and how the smooth taste was good for your throat. It seems like a sick joke now but back then…it was mainstream.

As if enlisting the medical profession wasn’t bad enough, the cigarette makers also featured healthy people in their ads. This included top sports figures like Joe DiMaggio, one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Despite his heavy smoking habit he lived to 84 years of age before lung cancer finally finished him off.

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One of the main culprits for this kind of advertising associating being healthy with smoking was the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company and its Camel brand. In 1946, it launched a campaign with the slogan: More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.

Doctors were indeed surveyed by the advertising company just after receiving complimentary packets of Camel cigarettes. At the time, the majority of physicians smoked compared to today when the figure is reportedly down to single figures in percentage terms.

Evidence that lung cancer was on the rise was pretty compelling by the 1940s and the link to tobacco had already been made. The use of doctors and sporty types indicates the industry recognised a looming problem. They hoped to overwhelm it with adverts portraying the habit as part of a healthy lifestyle.

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One tactic was to have these informed or healthy people stating that lower quality brands of cigarettes had indeed irritated their throat or lungs. But once they’d opted for Camel or Lucky Strike or whatever brand was featured in the ad – the problem went away. This was backed up with reports and data allegedly compiled by doctors on the improvements seen in their own smoking experience.

References:

Werner C. A., “The Triumph of the Cigarette,” American Mercury 6 (1925): 419–420; W. M. Johnson, “The Effects of Tobacco Smoking,” American Mercury 25 (1932): 451–454; A. G. Ingalls, “If You Smoke,” Scientific American 154 (1936): 310–313, 354–355

Burnham J. C., “American Physicians and Tobacco Use: Two Surgeons General, 1929 and 1964,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 63 (Spring 1989): 1–31

Snegireff L. S. and O. M. Lombard, “Survey of Smoking Habits of Massachusetts Physicians,” New England Journal of Medicine 250 (24) (1954): 1042–1045; “The Physician and Tobacco,” Southwestern Medicine 36 (1955): 589–590

coakly lettsom

The Abolitionist who owned a thousand slaves

Near where I live in London, a well known opponent of slavery had a mansion in the early nineteenth century. But somehow, despite his best intentions, this noble abolitionist ended up owning a thousand slaves. So, how did that unfortunate situation arise?

I recently bought a small magazine from February 1825 from an antique dealer that included a feature on Grove Hill, the mansion built by John Coakley Lettsom. Here I am with the magazine below. And it revealed an intriguing story about an abolitionist who unintentionally ended up owning an awful lot of slaves.

This prosperous gentleman was born to a slave owning father and an Irish mother in what is now the British Virgin Islands, a group of Caribbean islands to the right of Puerto Rico if you look at a map.

He was sent off to England as a child where, under the care of a guardian, he eventually studied medicine and became a doctor. Then the news came of a large inheritance back in the Caribbean as both his father and older brother had died. The brother had spent a large part of their father’s legacy but…a hundred slaves were left on the family plantation.

Now, John Coakley Lettsom had become a Quaker in England. And consequently an abolitionist – as that Christian denomination opposed slavery. So the first thing he did was to liberate all his father’s slaves – which left him penniless. He then set up as a doctor and eventually earned enough money to return from the Caribbean to England.

His self-sacrifice as an abolitionist who had stuck true to his principles got him very favourable publicity in London. England, at this time, was turning very much against the ownership of slaves. In contrast to the Americas where slavery would persist until the mid-century, slavery was officially outlawed in legislation passed in 1807 and 1833. Throughout the British Empire, it became illegal to own other human beings.

Lettsom built a large mansion outside London called Grove Hill – on a high point where you could see the city in the distance. As London has expanded, the area today is just another borough of south London. His mansion was demolished not long after his death and a row of very fine Regency houses built, many of which are still there.

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Just before he died, fate played a cruel trick on Lettsom. His son Pickering Lettsom went to live in the British Virgin Islands, where his father had been born, and married a rich woman. Tragically, Pickering died a month after the marriage and his wife not long after. They left everything in their will to John back in London including….a thousand slaves that Pickering’s wealthy wife owned.

Before the exasperated abolitionist could free all these newly acquired slaves, he himself died in 1815. So having begun his career by freeing a hundred slaves to widespread public approval in England, he ended his life accidentally owning a thousand!

Below is a picture of the abolitionist at home with his family in Camberwell before learning about his windfall of a thousand slaves.