Tobacco industry response to public health concern: a content analysis of cigarette ads

Health Educ Q. 1985 Summer;12(2):115-27. doi: 10.1177/109019818501200111.


Public awareness of the health hazards of smoking intensified when the subject received national publicity. To assess tobacco industry tactics to counter adverse publicity, we performed a content analysis of cigarette ads in selected issues of Time magazine, for selected years from 1929-84. The analysis showed direct responses to health concerns in all of the years of major smoking-and-health "events," with the possible exception of 1964, the year of the first Surgeon General's report. During these years large percentages of ads emphasized health themes instead of the conventional cigarette ad imagery. On average, health-theme ads have a higher verbal content than the more pictorial traditional ads. Correspondingly, they employ many fewer models. Health-theme ads tend to emphasize the "technological fix," such as the scientifically designed filter and the low-tar cigarette. Subtle changes in cigarette advertising include the elimination of visible smoke from ads. A decade's concentration on standard health themes, prompted by the "tar wars" of the 1970s, appears to have ended in the 1980s. Advertisers seem to have reverted to the "good times" nonhealth imagery of a bygone era, though possibly to deliver a subtle implicit health message. Understanding industry advertising tactics can assist public health professionals in developing insights into the promotion of smoking and in formulating smoking control strategies. Though highly exploratory and tentative in nature, this study is offered in the spirit of increasing such understanding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advertising*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Industry*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Public Health Administration
  • Public Health*
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Tobacco*
  • United States