Promoting health (implicitly)? A longitudinal content analysis of implicit health information in cigarette advertising, 1954-2003

J Health Commun. 2010 Oct;15(7):769-87. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2010.514033.


Tobacco studies indicate that health-related information in cigarette advertising leads consumers to underestimate the detrimental health effects of smoking and contributes to their smoking-related perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. This study examined the frequencies and kinds of implicit health information in cigarette advertising across five distinct smoking eras covering the years 1954-2003. Analysis of 1,135 cigarette advertisements collected through multistage probability sampling of three popular consumer magazines found that the level of implicit health information (i.e., "light" cigarette, cigarette pack color, verbal and visual health cues, cigarette portrayals, and human model-cigarette interaction) in post-Master Settlement Agreement [MSA] era ads is similar to the level in ads from early smoking eras. Specifically, "light" cigarettes were frequently promoted, and presence of light colors in cigarette packs seemed dominant after the probroadcast ban era. Impressionistic verbal health cues (e.g., soft, mild, and refreshing) appeared more frequently in post-MSA era ads than in pre-MSA era ads. Most notably, a majority of the cigarette ads portrayed models smoking, lighting, or offering a cigarette to others. The potential impact of implicit health information is discussed in the contexts of social cognition and Social Cognitive Theory. Policy implications regarding our findings are also detailed.

MeSH terms

  • Advertising / trends*
  • Consumer Health Information*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Periodicals as Topic*
  • Product Packaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Smoking*
  • Social Marketing
  • Tobacco Industry / economics
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence