Getting women to smoke

In the United States, not many women smoked before 1920. Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, changed that.

Bernays’s proudest accomplishment was the creation of a nation of female tobacco addicts in the 1920s. … Bernays, who was well-connected in the media, asked photographer friends to take photos of slim, pretty women smoking. He also paid physicians to go on record stating that cigarettes were an important part of a meal because the smoke “disinfects the mouth and soothes the nerves.”

The quote above comes from the book Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder, editor of Make magazine. He goes on to explain other things Bernays did such as persuading restaurants to add cigarettes to the desert menu and staging public events to make it look like women smoked openly.

The campaign was quite effective.

By the end of 1928, American Tobacco’s annual revenue increased by $32 million (about $400 million in today’s money, adjusted for inflation) over the previous year.

Frauenfelder tells this story to illustrate how our desires are manipulated by advertising. Advertisers of the same era taught us “that homemade clothing was shameful, home-canned food unsanitary, and old cars symbols of failure.” Frauenfelder contends such advertising campaigns killed that America’s do-it-yourself ethic.

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Smoking

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7 comments on “Getting women to smoke
  1. Joe Fix says:

    Our parent’s generation (unwittingly) single-handedly deconstructed generations of knowledge with their penchant for quick meals and designing items to be thrown away rather than repaired. Michelle has tried to glean as much information as possible from her grandparents (who still knew how to do things such as knit or take stains out with household chemicals), but unfortunately they’re gone now – along with their generations of passed down knowledge. There was a book that came out recently (and for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of it!) where some early-30′s woman had spent a lot of time at a senior center trying to obtain as many day-to-day tips as she could. In the interview I saw, she was dumbfounded by how much these senior women knew, and sadly, how much her mom did NOT know – and therefore could not pass on to her.

  2. cbp says:

    I highly recommend this fascinating documentary which is available in full at Google Video: http://video.google.com.au/videoplay?docid=6718420906413643126&ei=XvkpTLjDOYL-wQP93oH6Dw&q=freud+nephew#

    Goes into some detail about Bernays life and the impact it had on the 20th century – perhaps more of an impact than Freud’s.

  3. John says:

    Well, maybe our parents’ generation forgot how to cook, but at least they learned how to smoke. ;)

    I find it amazing how much we forgot about human reproduction in just a generation or two. We became convinced that canned formula is better than breast milk and that birth requires surgery under normal circumstances.

  4. alfC says:

    Everyone in that family followed equally bad scientific standards

  5. Chris says:

    John, have you considered using similar topics to promote your blog? Might I suggest, “Everyone who loves freedom and is a genius reads ‘The Endeavor’”?!

  6. Eric Wilson says:

    I became convinced some years ago that marketing to children was inherently evil, as children are not able to understand the nature of marketing messages.

    I’m not ready to conclude that all marketing is evil, but there seems very little redeemable in modern mass marketing. We all think we understand, that we are not influenced . . .

  7. @Eric:
    Agreed. Most people underestimate the effect marketing has on them (including me, no doubt).

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