Covering Cancer?

How magazines promoted cancer research…and cigarettes


December 22, 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the National Cancer Act by President Richard Nixon. Nixon’s call to arms, which became known as the launch of the “War on Cancer,” was revived by Vice President Joe Biden in 2016 and again as President in 2022 as the “Cancer Moonshot”–-a reference to the 1969 Apollo 11 mission that landed a man on the moon eight years after President John F. Kennedy called on Congress to fund this program.

Remarkable, even miraculous, advances have been made in cancer treatment since the 1970s, even as a universal cure for the more than 100 kinds of cancer remains elusive, if not illusory. Yet it has been known for decades that upwards of one third of cancers are entirely preventable by not smoking. Communicating information through the mass media about ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer has always been essential to improving the nation’s health. Throughout the 20th century, the print medium was the most trusted form of communication. Despite the introduction of radio in the 1920s and its soaring popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, the news magazine TIME (1923-2020 as a weekly) had a circulation of 3 million by 1939. And even four decades after the introduction of television into most homes in the 1950s, Newsweek‘s (1933-2012) circulation exceeded 3.3 million. US News & World Report (1948-2008), which published the most in-depth articles of any news magazine, reached 2 million readers a week in 1973.

Cigarette advertising featured prominently in most issues of these newsweeklies from their inception to the early-2000s. This made for numerous ironic juxtapositions–-both before and since the declaration of the war on cancer–-of front cover stories on cancer and back cover advertisements for cigarettes.  This exhibition presents such two-faced examples from the Center’s collection. The extent to which cigarette advertisers influenced news coverage of smoking can only be hinted at.

Meanwhile, most major magazines in the latter half of the 20th century, including TV Guide (circulation 16.4 million in 1972), LIFE, The Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Playboy, Woman’s Day (8.1 million in 1972), VOGUE, Family Circle, EBONY, and Jet, published cigarette advertisements in nearly every issue. Few articles about cancer–and virtually none about smoking–were published by any of these magazines. Reader’s Digest (17.8 million in 1972) was a rare exception, publishing dozens of original and reprinted articles on the health hazards of smoking beginning in December, 1952 with “Cancer by the Carton” by Roy Norr, based on an article published in Christian Herald two months before.

Click on each image to enlarge it and to read multi-page articles in full.

“What Causes CANCER?”/
“Why Viceroy? Because I’d never smoke a boring cigarette.” (10 pages)

Cover story, “What Causes CANCER?” and back cover advertisement for Viceroy cigarettes (Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company)
January 26, 1976

“Cancer and the Environment: Ten Top Suspects”

Table in cover story, “What Causes CANCER?”
January 26, 1976

This six-page article in the Medicine section discusses the widespread public fear generated by reports of cancer-causing chemicals in food and household products. Although the article does not question cigarette smoking as a significant cause of cancer, the inclusion of a table, “Cancer and the Environment: Ten Top Suspects,” in which “tobacco smoke” is number 9, surely mollified concerns of the magazine’s four major cigarette company advertisers. The “suspects” are listed in…alphabetical order!

Nor does the article offer a sanguine outlook:

“[T]he real task of lowering the incidence of cancers induced by the American lifestyle is essentially up to ordinary citizens,” the article concluded, “–and here the outlook for constructive action does not seem so bright. For despite all the warnings, the majority of Americans continue to indulge themselves in the potentially harmful pleasures that their opulent society provides, and so far they are apparently content to take the perils along with the pleasures. ‘Right now we’ve decided that this is the way we want to live and die,’ says Dr. David Baltimore [1938- ], who won the 1975 Nobel Prize for basic cancer research. ‘And that’s the real challenge in American health today.’”

Another key quote from the article: “The outcry that follows each successive new disclosure of a possible carcinogen on the dinner table or in the workshop tends to obscure the fact that 60 million Americans continue to expose themselves to tobacco–the least disputed carcinogen of all.”

In addition to the back cover advertisement for Viceroy cigarettes (Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.), the issue contains six other cigarette advertisements: Merit (Philip Morris, 2 pages), Winston (RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.), Lucky Strike (American, 1/3 page), Iceberg 100s (American Tobacco Co., 1/3 page), Doral (RJ Reynolds), and Salem (RJ Reynolds).

Latest Findings: Does Smoking Shorten Life?” (14 pages)

Cover story
U.S. News & World Report
July 2, 1954

This extensive section comprises the following: an in-depth interview by an anonymous reporter(s) with Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond, Director of Statistical Research, American Cancer Society (ACS); the text of the summary and conclusions of the report on the effects of smoking made by Dr. Hammond and Dr. Daniel Horn to the American Medical Association (AMA) convention on June 21, 1954; the text of the statement about the report by Dr. Charles S. Cameron, medical and scientific director of the American Cancer Society during the AMA convention; an interview with Dr. Cameron on June 23,1954; the text of Dr. Cameron’s statement about the report in The New York Times on June 17, 1954; and a comment on the report by Dr. Clarence Cook Little, scientific director of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC).

The U.S. New & World Report cover story was sparked by the presentation at the AMA convention by Hammond and Horn of their preliminary findings of a five-year study. Using data collected and updated over a 28-month period by 22,000 ACS volunteers, Hammond and Horn reviewed the smoking histories of healthy 187,766 men, of whom 32,381 never smoked, in 394 counties scattered across the U.S.  They found that men with a history of regular cigarette smoking have a considerably higher death rate than men who have never smoked: 63% higher from all causes, 82% higher  from heart disease, 106% higher from all cancers, and 200% higher from lung cancer. In Hammond’s words, “The death rates among regular cigarette smokers are about the same as the death rates among nonsmokers–people who never smoke–who are five years older….You might say that smoking ages a man around five years.”

Although the ACS’s Cameron praised the study’s methodology, he was not convinced of the causal relationship between heavy cigarette smoking and increased susceptibility from cancer in general. Unsurprisingly, Little of the TIRC agreed with Cameron and called for “greatly extended, amplified and diversified basic research on the relation of various habits of the different types of human beings to their health and well-being throughout their life cycle.”

Unlike most issues of the magazine in 1954, there were no cigarette advertisements in this issue.

“The Truth About Smoking and Cancer”/
“Winston Tastes Good! Like a Cigarette Should!” (8 pages)

Cover story, “The Truth About Smoking and Cancer–What is Known and Unknown; Interview with Dr. John R. Heller,” and back cover advertisement for Winston cigarettes (RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company)
U.S. News & World Report,
July 26, 1957

This extraordinary 14-page article includes an in-depth, 10-page interview with Dr. John Heller [1905-1989]*, director of the National Cancer Institute [from 1948 to 1960], who responds both cautiously and candidly to questions about the ride in lung cancer,  the mounting evidence of cigarette smoking as a cause of lung cancer, and the government’s responsibility in educating the public about cigarettes, as these excerpts show.

Q Is the proportion of deaths caused by all types of cancer increasing and the proportion of deaths caused by lung cancer increasing?

A Yes. In other words, as we are surviving typhoid and gastroenteritis, malaria and so forth, we’re living longer. We must die of something. We’re most likely to die of heart disease—cardiovascular disease. But if we don’t die of that, the next chance is cancer….

(Read More)

“Rising Hope in War on Cancer”/
“Turn to Salem for a Taste that’s Springtime Fresh” (8 pages)

Cover story, “Rising Hope in War on Cancer,” and back cover advertisement for Salem cigarettes (RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company)
U.S. News & World Report
April 19, 1965

There is not a single mention of smoking in this two-page cover article and the accompanying four-page interview with Dr. Frank L. Horsfall, Jr., President and Director, Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. But Dr. Horsfall makes a prescient comment about treatment vs. prevention in the solution to “the cancer problem”:

“Treatment of paralytic polio is still little more than rehabilitation. And treatment would never, in my opinion, have progressed to the point of being an effective solution for the problem of polio. It was the development of a preventive vaccine that brought this disease under control.

“I use these viral diseases as outstanding examples of the effectiveness of prevention.

“In my opinion, the cancer problem, too, if it is ultimately solved, is not going to be solved solely by treatment, regardless of how effective such treatment becomes. When the cancer problem is solved, I expect it will be through prevention.”

“The Search for a Cure”/
“Winston. America’s Best.”

Cover story and back cover advertisement for Winston cigarettes (RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company)
December 16, 1985

“Slash Risk of Cancer with Simple Diet Change”/
“New Kent III 100s, Experience It!”

Cover story and back cover advertisement for Kent cigarettes (Lorillard)
National Enquirer,
January 22, 1980

“10 Year Study by Top Cancer Center, Cut Your Risk of Cancer in Half”/
“A World of Flavor in a Low Tar”

Cover story and back cover advertisement for Merit cigarettes (Philip Morris)
National Enquirer,
March 5, 1985

“Gilda Radner’s Answer to Cancer”/
“The World’s First Do-It-Yourself Print Ad”

Cover story and back cover advertisement for Merit cigarettes (Philip Morris)
LIFE Magazine
March 1988

“One American woman in ten will get Breast Cancer; Why–and what can be done?”/
“10 packs of Carlton have less tar than 1 pack of these brands. U.S. gov’t. test method confirms of all king soft packs: Carlton is lowest.”

Cover story and back cover advertisement for Carlton cigarettes (American Tobacco Company)
TIME Magazine,
January 14, 1991

“The American Cancer Society’s A to Z Diet Guide”/
“Discover Flavor at the Lowest Levels of Tar and Nicotine”

Cover story and back cover advertisement for Merit cigarettes (Philip Morris)
Family Circle
August 11, 1992

“The War on Cancer: A Progress Report”

Cover story, “The War on Cancer: Progress Report,” in Newsweek, February 22, 1974

This nine-page article was sparked by a front-page news story by Gina Kolata in The New York Times on May 3, 1998, headlined “HOPE IN THE LAB: A Special Report; A Cautious Awe Greets Drugs That Eradicate Tumors in Mice.” The article reported the discovery that two drugs, endostatin and angiostatin, developed by cancer researcher Dr. Judah Folkman [1933-2008], stopped cancers from growing by halting angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels. Eight cigarette advertisements were featured in this issue, including three for brands by Philip Morris (Marlboro, Virginia Slims, and Merit), two by the American Tobacco Company (Carlton and Pall Mall), one for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company (Vantage), one by Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company (Barclay), and one for Lorillard (True).

Not a single sentence in this nine-page article in the Medicine section includes the words “prevention” or “smoking,” even though lung cancer (the number of cases of which was still dramatically increasing in 1981 and would not peak until the mid-1990s) is referred to as one of the most difficult to detect early or to treat. Indeed, the article concludes on a hopeful and almost boastful note:

“Conquest: Despite the advances of the last decade, cancer will still claim the lives of more than 400,000 Americans in 1981. The conquest of smallpox, polio and measles-which took centuries to accomplish-was simple by comparison to the war being waged against cancer. They were simple diseases, caused by viruses that could each be stopped by single vaccines. Cancer is 100 different diseases, one for every type of body cell that has the perverse capacity to break ranks and become malignant. “But progress is coming, and will come, with deliberate speed. Oncologists will find better ways to use current drugs, and basic research into the secrets of the cancer cell will suggest new and more dramatic compounds. And slowly, even the most recalcitrant tumors-those of the lung and the bowel-may become as treatable as leukemia. Granted, there is a long way to go, but the oncologists are confident of the outcome. Says [Dr. Vincent] DeVita [1935- ]: ‘We’re seeing the last little pieces of the chemotherapy puzzle falling into place.'”

1954 True magazine cover

“Who Says Smoking Gives Men Lung Cancer?” (10 pages)

Article by Donald G. Cooley underwritten by the tobacco industry
TRUE, The Men’s Magazine
July 1954

Reprinted and distributed by the National Association of Tobacco Distributors as a free-standing article, “Smoke Without Fear”

“Smoke Without Fear?–A Vital New Report” (7 pages)

Cover story in ARGOSY, “The largest-selling fiction-fact magazine for men”
January 1958

“Why Shouldn’t You Smoke? Is there a proven cause-and-effect relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer? NO, says authority Eric Northrup, and gives surprising reasons why.”

Article by Eric Northrup
January, 1958

Eric Northrup was the pen name of Leo Nemiroff [1914-2001], author of a 1957 book Science Looks At Smoking: A New Inquiry into the effects of smoking on your health (New York: Coward-McCann), which disputed any link between smoking and health. In the ARGOSY article, Northrup argues that air pollution and “constitutional factors” are the likely causes of lung cancer and downplays the growing evidence of smoking as a cause of cancer by pointing out that the studies were all done on mice, guinea pigs, and machines. He quotes Clarence Cook Little [1888-1971], described as perhaps the world’s leading researcher on cancer in mice (but not also identified as the scientific director and chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board to the Tobacco Industry Research Committee), debunking the research showing that tobacco smoke condensate (or ‘Tar”) painted on mice caused cancer, as “ninety per cent enthusiastic, ten per cent critical.”

Other quotes: “…the overwhelming attention devoted to the purely hypothetical cigarette-cancer risk verges on the absurd.”

“Statistics, as always, can play a brilliant part in providing clues for follow-up laboratory and clinical investigation. But until such claims receive scientific confirmation claims of causation can lead only to unwarranted emphasis that may adversely affect the distribution of research facilities.”

There are three full-page color cigarette advertisements in the issue: Old Gold Filter (Lorillard), Hit Parade (American Tobacco Co.), and Lucky Strike (American Tobacco Co.).

“The Facts about Cigarettes and Your Health” (5 pages)

Cover story by Henry P. Mattison and John Schneider
Coronet Magazine

May 1950

Although the authors of this article downplay, deride, or debunk the increasing number of medical reports of a variety of adverse health effects caused by smoking, Coronet, a general interest, family-oriented magazine similar in format to Reader’s Digest (which in 1952 became the first major magazine to warn regularly about the dangers of smoking) did not have cigarette advertising. However, its publisher, Esquire, a recipient of considerable cigarette ad revenue, disseminated reprints of the article.

“[A]larmists, seeking to promote their own or special interests, find it easy to thrive on sensation. Because of our sensitivity to the new and the startling, they can often cast a spell of fear across the country before sober facts catch up and repair the damage. Currently, we are being scared again–this time, about cigarette smoking. From all sides, we hear warnings of the grim fate awaiting smokers. Fifty million Americans who enjoy cigarettes–half the adults in the country–are told that smoking will lead them to an early grave, induce ulcers and high blood pressure, bring on assorted heart ailments, and even encourage the incidence of that gravest of all diseases, cancer. Never before, in fact, have the prophets of doom so diligently exposed the alleged evil effects of tobacco.”

Adolf Hitler

TIME Magazine
May 7, 1945

“Tyranny Tumbles”

TIME Magazine
April 21, 2003

“A Special Report: The End of Bin Laden”

TIME Magazine
May 26, 2011

“How to tell the hope from the hype. A Special Report” (8 pages)

Cover Story, by Christine Gorman “CANCER: How to tell the hope from the hype,”
TIME Magazine
May 18, 1998

TIME Magazine and the Cure for Cancer: Hope vs. Hype Indeed

In 1945, TIME Magazine first used a red X on its cover to mark the demise of an arch-enemy. The striking image has since appeared five times–after the killings of a dictator in 2003 and two perpetrators of mass terrorism in 2006 and 2011, and in 2020 to illustrate the end of “the worst year ever.” But the May 18, 1998 TIME cover heralding the elimination of cancer was woefully premature. The rush-to-print cover story was sparked by a front-page article by Gina Kolata in The New York Times on May 3, 1998, headlined “HOPE IN THE LAB: A Special Report.; A Cautious Awe Greets Drugs That Eradicate Tumors in Mice.” Kolata’s article, which reported the discovery that two drugs, endostatin and angiostatin, developed by cancer researcher Dr. Judah Folkman [1933-2008], stopped cancers from growing by stopping angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood vessels. “Within a year, if all goes well,” the article began, “the first cancer patient will be injected with two new drugs that can eradicate any type of cancer, with no obvious side effects and no drug resistance — in mice.”

Although there is no mention of cigarette smoking in the TIME article, at the bottom of a two-page Checklist of Cancer Treatments a paragraph labeled, “The Best Prevention,” notes that “changes in life-style–chief among them quitting smoking–can remove risk factors that cause cancer in the first place…”

A second three-page article, “Molecular Revolution,” by Claudia Willis, lists “cigarette smoke, sunlight, environmental toxins…and aging” as causes of alterations in genes that can result in cancer. The article reflected the view of cancer researchers that “a new era is dawning in the treatment of the U.S.’s No. 2 killer.” Dr. Bert Vogelstein [1949-  ], a world-renowned investigator of cancer genes at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said, “Three decades ago, the Federal Government’s ‘War on Cancer’ underwrote basic discoveries about the ways broken-down genes led to malignancies. Now that work is beginning to pay off…As researchers, we feel a tremendous amount of hope, probably for the first time in the history of cancer research.”

From its first year of publication in 1923 and throughout the 20th century, TIME Magazine was a major recipient of cigarette advertising revenue. There were no cigarette advertisements in its May 11, 1998 issue on the hoped-for cure for cancer.

“Smoking Scare? What’s Happened to It?” (3 pages)

Cover story
U.S. News & World Report
January 11, 1965

Cover headline: “Smoking Scare? What’s Happened to It?…One year after the big smoking scare–People are smoking about as much as they did before. Sales of cigarettes after a sudden drop a year ago, have climbed back.”

This four-page article describes the lack of impact on U.S. cigarette consumption one year after the publication of the Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health. The hope was that educational campaigns being developed by national health organizations and aimed at teenagers would be more successful in discouraging smoking.

“[A]ll signs indicate that cigarette smoking is still just as widespread among Americans as it ever was…
The Surgeon General himself has said he is ‘disappointed’ that so few Americans gave up cigarettes permanently following the publication of his report….The Surgeon General’s report caused a 30-day slump in cigarette sales, coupled with a wholesale shift to pipes and cigars. Few people, apparently, attempted to quit smoking entirely.”

There were no cigarette advertisements in this issue.

“Is There Proof Smoking Causes Cancer? Interview with Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond” (6 pages)

Cover story
U.S. News & World Report
February 26, 1954

Cover headline: “Is There Proof Smoking Causes Cancer? Interview with Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond: A Multiplicity of Suspects…How the Research Is Being Handled…What’s Been Found Up to Now,”

This is an in-depth 10-page interview with Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond (1912-1986), director of statistical research of the American Cancer Society and professor of biometrics at Yale University. Dr. Hammond, who smoked, was directing the nation’s largest epidemiological study of smoking and lung cancer. This quote reflected his open-mindedness while conducting his research:

“My personal guess right now is that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between smoking and lung cancer, but I have no idea at the present time whether that relationship is trivial–no more dangerous than crossing the street, for after all, you might get run over crossing the street–or whether it is so important that making cigarettes ought to stop until we found what’s in them that is bad and remove it. But as to whether or not all the harmful ingredients can be removed and still have a cigarette that is pleasant to smoke remains to be seen. I am interested not only in lung cancer, but also other possibly harmful effects of smoking.

“It may be that the nicotine is increasing the death rate from heart disease and that the tar is increasing the death rate from lung cancer and that something else is increasing the death rate for cerebral hemorrhage. If so you will probably have to eliminate the cigarette. We don’t know yet. It is also conceivable that smoking has some beneficial effects.”

There were no cigarette advertisements in this issue.

About the back cover: The consumption of alcoholic beverages was first classified as a potential cause of cancer in 1988 by the International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR). Since 2010 ethanol (the major ingredient of alcoholic beverages) and acetaldehyde (the principal metabolite of ethanol) have been classified as Class I carcinogens in humans (similar to asbestos and tobacco smoke). IACR has concluded that alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. The level of risk increases with the level of consumption. Alcohol consumption is the primary cause of 3.2% of deaths from cancer in the US each year.  Mass media coverage of alcohol as a carcinogen has been negligible. In contrast to its annual, one-day “Great American Smokeout” to discourage cigarette smoking, The American Cancer does little to raise the awareness of the public or health professionals about alcohol as a cause of cancer.

“Lung Cancer: Who’s at Risk? The Danger for Women and Ex-Smokers: What We Can Learn from Dana Reeve and Peter Jennings”
(5 pages)

Cover story, “The Deadliest Cancer,” by Geoffrey Cowley and Claudia Kalb
August 22, 2005

There are several mentions of smoking in this seven-page article, including “The causes of lung cancer are no great mystery: some 87 percent of all cases result directly from smoking. Whatever your age, sex, race, occupation or family history, the surest way to protect yourself is to avoid smoking or to quit.” The article discusses ABC-TV news reporter and anchor Peter Jennings, who died of lung cancer at 67 that he attributed to his past 35 years of cigarette smoking. The article also mentions actress Dana Reeve, who never smoked but was found to have lung cancer at age 44. Other points of the article include the frustratingly slow progress in the detection and treatment of this largely preventable disease, as well as the need to counteract the largely unopposed $15 billion/year marketing of cigarettes by the tobacco industry.

One degree of separation: The back cover advertiser, TIAA-CREF, the nation’s foremost teachers’ pension fund, has been a major investor in tobacco stocks. In 2005 Philip Morris, in which TIAA-CREF held millions of shares, was one of the 30 companies included in calculating the Dow Jones average. Philip Morris was also the most profitable stock over a 50-year span on the New York Stock Exchange.

“Hope in the War Against Cancer” (5 pages)

Cover story, “Stopping Cancer in Its Tracks,” by J. Madeleine Nash
TIME Magazine
April 25, 1994

This seven-page article focuses on advances in the understanding of angiogenesis, the abnormal formation of new blood vessels by cancer cells that is a harbinger of a spreading cancer, as well as on discoveries related to the genes found in cancer cells: oncogenes, which can mutate and transform a normal cell into a cancerous one; and tumor-suppression genes, most notably p53, which keeps watch over our hereditary material, DNA, as our cells divide [the p53 gene is named for a protein it makes with a molecular weight of 53].

Smoking and Health”/
“For Satisfying Pleasure…Kent with the Micronite Filter…” (5 pages)

Cover story and back cover advertisement for Kent cigarettes (Lorillard)
November 18, 1963

This six-page article is the most definitive coverage published in any news magazine about the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health in the lead up to the release of the committee’s findings on the role of cigarette smoking and disease. The committee had been set up a year and a half earlier after Washington Evening Star reporter Edgar Prina surprised President John F. Kennedy at a news conference by asking what the federal government was going to do about smoking in the wake of the Royal College of Physicians’ recent indictment of cigarettes. Kennedy asked Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry to establish a committee to study the issue. Just as the committee was winding up its top-secret investigation, and only a few days after this issue of Newsweek was published, President Kennedy was assassinated. There was doubt that the report would be released, since President Johnson’s friend, attorney Abe Fortus, had represented the tobacco industry. But the report was issued on January 11, 1964–an indictment of smoking as a cause of lung cancer and other diseases, after having reviewed 7,100 studies.

The article included statements from the Tobacco Industry Research Council and several physicians who cast doubt on the evidence that smoking caused cancer. The issue featured an advertisement for Kent cigarettes (Lorillard) on its back cover.

(Read More)

“The War on Cancer: A Progress Report” (9 pages)

Cover story
February 22, 1974

This six-page article in the Medicine section highlights the discovery of University of Wisconsin cancer researcher Dr. Howard M. Temin [1934 – 1994]* that the rules for the transmission of genetic material within the cell can be reversed by viruses known to cause cancer in animals. The tone of the article is buoyant, as these two quotes suggest:

“‘[C]oincidentally or not, the White House itself has called for a massive commitment of public funds. ‘The time has come in America,’ said President Richard M. Nixon in his State of the Union Message this year, ‘when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease.’”

“What more remains to be seen is how quickly the latest breakthroughs may lead to yet more dramatic and productive ones, so that as some cautious physicians and researchers envision, the war against cancer may be won by the end of the century.”

There is no mention of smoking in the article. There are full-page color advertisements for Parliament cigarettes (Philip Morris), Winston cigarettes (RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.), Borkhum Riff pipe tobacco (United States Tobacco Co.), and a one-third page ad for Cuesta-Rey cigars.

*In 1975, Dr. Temin shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology with David Baltimore and Renato Dulbecco for discoveries related to the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell. After receiving the award from King Carl Gustav of Sweden, Temin addressed the smokers in the audience…saying he was “outraged that one major measure available to prevent much cancer, namely the cessation of smoking, had not been more widely adopted.” He had also insisted that the ashtray located on the laureates’ table be removed.” In 1994, Dr. Temin died of lung cancer at age 59.

Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology by Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, February 9). Howard Martin Temin. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 11, 2022.

“Dr. Clarence Cook (“Pete”) Little–‘If we can get all the women talking about Cancer…’” (8 pages)

Cover story, “Cancer Army,” in Medicine section
TIME Magazine
March 22, 1937

This five-page article profiles cancer researcher Dr. Clarence Cook Little, director of the American Society for the Control of Cancer, and his plans to create a “Women’s Field Army” in 39 states to educate women about cancer, “the largest evangelical movement ever loosed against a disease.” The article begins, “Three hundred thousand U.S. women have cancer. Some 80,000 will die of it this year…”

There is no mention of smoking. In the cover photo, Dr. Little is lighting his pipe.

The back cover is a color advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes (American Tobacco Company). There are also two advertisements for pipe tobacco, Prince Albert (RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company) and Briggs Pipe Mixture (Briggs).

“The New War on Cancer via Virus Research & Chemotherapy” (9 pages)

Cover story, “Cornering the Killer”
TIME Magazine
July 27, 1959

The five-page article profiles the director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. John R. “Rod” Heller, and discusses the theory of viruses as a cause of cancer and the development of drugs to kill cancer cells. Two key points:

“The experts are in close agreement on what cancer is. First, it is not one disease any more than ‘infection’ is. Cancer ravages the entire plant and animal kingdoms. In Man, there are 200 to 300 kinds, though 90% of human cancers belong to 30 common types. So ‘cancer’ is a collective term.”

“Biggest question in prevention today is how the rise in lung cancer–virtually confined to heavy-smoking men–can be checked and reversed. Rod Heller, bureaucrat and son of a tobacco-growing state (although he has never smoked), has weighed all the conflicting evidence and arrived at a forthright conclusion: ‘Statistical evidence, supported by laboratory findings, has shown that excessive cigarette smoking can be a cause of lung cancer, and that the greater the consumption of cigarettes the greater the risk.’ Practical Dr. Heller sees little prospect of changing U.S. smoking habits, pins his hopes for lung cancer prevention on convicting a specific substance in tobacco tars as the guilt agent, then getting rid of it.”

There is a full-page color advertisement for Pall Mall cigarettes (American Tobacco Company) and three small Marlboro cigarette ads (Philip Morris) totaling one-sixth of a page.

“Diagnosis: Lung Cancer? The Surgeon Operates” (7 pages)

Cover story
June 22, 1959

“Cancer of the Lung–Case No. 248301,” by Calvin Tomkins

This five-page cover story includes a graphic description of an open-chest operation in a patient suspected of having lung cancer. The article begins,

“Fifty years ago, cancer of the lung was virtually unknown. Today, it kills more than 35,000 Americans a year, strikes down hundreds of thousands throughout the world, and is increasing at a rate that some doctors call ‘epidemic.’ So far, despite intensive research, the only hope of cure is surgery–the massive, radical chest surgery recently undergone by such prominent men as Gen. Nathan Twining, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and TV-radio star Arthur Godfrey.”

The article features a question and answer section with prominent researchers (excerpted below). A color advertisement for Pall Mall cigarettes (American Tobacco Company) appears in the issue, with the slogan, “Get satisfying flavor…So friendly to your taste!…No flat filtered-out flavor.”

(Read More)

“Toward Control of Cancer” (10 pages)

Cover story, “Toward Cancer Control,” by Peter Stoler and Andrea Chambers
TIME Magazine
March 19, 1973

This six-page hagiography of a pioneer of modern immunology and bone marrow transplantation, Dr. Robert Good [1922-2003] is prefaced by a publisher’s note that begins,

“CANCER, mankind’s most feared disease, has been stubbornly resisting the onslaught of medicine since the days of Hippocrates. lt is today the second leading cause of death in the U.S. (after heart disease) and a subject of intensive study by researchers around the world. One of the foremost of these is this week’s cover subject, Dr. Robert Good, director of New York’s Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research.”

The article is devoted entirely to advances in the treatment of cancer; thus there is no mention of prevention, smoking, or lung cancer. There are, however, four full-page color advertisements for cigarettes (Tareyton [American Tobacco Co.], Viceroy [Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company], Kent [Lorillard], and Benson & Hedges [Philip Morris]) and a quarter-page advertisement for Garcia y Vega cigars.

How TIME and Newsweek Courted Cigarette Advertisers

Not long after its inception in 1923, TIME Magazine sought to ingratiate itself with the tobacco industry. For the remainder of the century, the magazine was heavily dependent on cigarette advertising. In the early-1980s, TIME was a frequent advertiser in the tobacco industry trade publication United States Tobacco Journal (re-named the US Tobacco and Candy Journal, then The US Distribution Journal in that decade), promising to “Light up cigarette sale.” One of TIME‘s advertisements saluted the National Association of Tobacco Dealers. In airports across the country, TIME purchased freestanding billboards that featured a pack of cigarettes as a stand-in for the “I” in the magazine’s logo. Brands of all the major cigarette manufacturers appeared during this campaign.

In the mid-1980s Newsweek, then owned by The Washington Post, also purchased advertisements in United States Tobacco Journal touting the magazine as a leading vehicle for increasing global cigarette sales and making a pitch for more cigarette ads. At the same time, in ads in the trade weekly Advertising Age, Newsweek used the prestige of the American Medical Association (AMA) to lend credibility to potential advertisers in a Personal Health Care section, written and endorsed by the AMA, published in an issue in 1983 and another in 1984. The 32-page section in Newsweek‘s November 7, 1983 issue, which featured 17 pages of advertising by pharmaceutical, food, fitness equipment, and vitamin companies, included a total of two sentences about smoking in its 15 pages of health information and advice: “If you smoke, you should discuss the risks with your doctor.” and “Don’t smoke in bed.” In the rest of the issue, there were 11 pages of cigarette advertising, more than for any other product except automobiles. The 36-page Personal Health Care section of Newsweek‘s October 29, 1984 issue included five paragraphs about the risk of cancer from smoking in its 16 pages of health information and advice. The issue carried four pages of cigarette advertising.

TIME salutes Philip Morris

Photograph in Advertising Age
Circa 1984

“Where there’s smoke…there’s a hot market for cigarette advertisers”

Advertisement for TIME Magazine
US Tobacco Journal
Circa 1981

“A Special Word of Thanks to the National Association of Tobacco Dealers”

Advertisement for TIME Magazine
United States Tobacco Journal
Circa 1981

“TIME: Where America learns Carlton is lowest”

Photograph of advertisement for TIME Magazine (and American Tobacco Company’s Carlton cigarettes) at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago
All photographs of airport billboards taken by Alan Blum, MD

“TIME: Where America learns Carlton is lowest”

Photograph of advertisement for TIME Magazine (and American Tobacco Company’s Carlton cigarettes) at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago

“TIME: Where the lowest reaches the top”

Photograph of advertisement for TIME Magazine (and American Tobacco Company’s Carlton cigarettes) at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago

“TIME: Where True Gold is being discovered”

Photograph of billboard for TIME Magazine (and P. Lorillard’s True Gold cigarettes) at unknown New York City subway station
Circa 1981

“TIME: The time is right for the strong-tasting low tar…Real”

Photograph of billboard for TIME Magazine (and RJ Reynolds’ Real cigarettes) at unknown airport
Circa 1978

“TIME: Where smokers discover the abundant taste of Golden Lights”

Photograph of billboard for TIME Magazine (and P. Lorillard’s Kent Golden Lights cigarettes) at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago
Circa 1980

“Where Kent III taste is a newsworthy experience”

Photograph of billboard for TIME Magazine (and P. Lorillard’s Kent III cigarettes) at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago
Circa 1980

“TIME: To your good health”

Photograph of billboard for TIME Magazine as a reliable source of medical information, at unknown airport
Circa 1982

“Light up your sales. Target-market impact. Prestigious national magazine. Newsweek”

Advertisement seeking cigarette advertisements
United States Tobacco Journal
May 22 – June 7, 1981

“Good Medicine for Health Care Advertisers”

Advertisement for Newsweek
Advertising Age

“Join the AMA and Newsweek for an historic house call of 22 million Americans”

Advertisement for Newsweek
Advertising Age

Reader’s Digest: A Rare Exception

First published in 1922, Reader’s Digest had the largest circulation (over 9 million) of any magazine in the US by mid-century, a distinction it held until 1984 when TV Guide surpassed it. Virtually alone among magazines that regularly published articles about cancer, Reader’s Digest included articles about cigarette smoking as early as 1938. With the publication in December, 1952 of the article “Cancer by the Carton” (excerpted from a polemic by Roy Norr, “Smokers are Getting SCARED!” in Christian Herald in October, 1952), Reader’s Digest began a no-holds-barred attack on cigarette smoking. In the tradition of legendary journalist George Seldes (1890-1995), whose newspaper, In fact, published scathing exposes of the clout of the tobacco industry in the mass media in the 1940s, Norr published a newsletter on the tobacco industry, cigarette advertising, and the dangers of smoking. In the June, 1962 issue of Reader’s Digest, which contained a summary of Smoking and Health, the ground-breaking report published three months earlier by the Royal College of Physicians, the publishers of the United Kingdom edition announced that the magazine would cease accepting cigarette advertising; cigarette ads were never included in Reader’s Digest in the U.S. Consumer Reports, which has never accepted any kind of advertising since its inception in 1936, is the only other major magazine that crusaded against cigarette smoking in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Here are the latest scientific findings… on Lung Cancer and Cigarettes”

Advertisement for the June 1962 issue of Reader’s Digest
The New York Times
May 23, 1962

“Lung Cancer and Cigarettes: The Latest Findings” (7 pages)

Article by Lois Mattox Miller
Reader’s Digest, U.S. Edition
June 1962

“Smoking and Health: The Doctors’ Report” (12 pages)

Article by Lois Mattox Miller
Reader’s Digest, United Kingdom Edition
June 1962

“Cancer by the Carton” (3 pages)

Article by Roy Norr
Condensed from “Smokers are Getting SCARED!” in Christian Herald, October, 1952
Reader’s Digest
December 1952

“Smokers Are Getting SCARED!” (3 pages)

Article by Roy Norr
Christian Herald
October 1952

(Source: Googlebooks)

Newspapers, too, aggressively sought lucrative cigarette ad revenue

In 1975, more than a decade after the publication of the US Surgeon General’s Report on the devastating health consequences of cigarette smoking, George Gitlitz, MD, a vascular surgeon and past president of the Broome County, New York Medical Society, wrote the first of over a dozen letters to the editor and the publisher of The New York Times challenging them to discuss on the newspaper’s editorial page their reasons for continuing to accept cigarette advertising and to acknowledge the irony of repeated editorial accusations of financial self-interest by doctors while profiting from the promotion of the major preventable cause of disease and avoidable medical costs. Dr. Gitlitz’ correspondence with The Times was published in December 1983 in the New York State Journal of Medicine in the first theme issue by a medical journal on the world cigarette pandemic:

But The Times and other major daily newspapers were far from passive recipients of tobacco industry largesse. They aggressively courted cigarette advertisers in tobacco industry trade publications and boasted of helping to promote cigarette sales. In the Center’s 2018 exhibition “Big Tobacco in the Big Apple: How New York City became the heart of the tobacco industry…and anti-smoking activism,” The Times’ ties to cigarette companies is explored in greater depth:

“TRUE and KENT chose Home Entertaining for its long-lasting flavor among 4.2 million readers”

Advertisement for The New York Times Magazine Home Entertaining
U.S. Tobacco and Candy Journal

Ca. 1985

I saw it in The Times Ad pitch

“I saw it in The Times… Life styles are made, not born.”

Advertisement for The New York Times
United States Tobacco and Candy Journal

Ca. 1985

“We helped Satin catch fire”

Advertisement for Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinal touting the newspapers’ reach in promoting a new brand of cigarettes (Satin by P. Lorillard)
Advertising Age


“Not all our readers are ‘movers and shakers’…yet”

Advertisement for USA Today highlighting children as targeted readers
Advertising Age

Ca 1990

“What do AT&T, RJR, IDS, CBS, and 3M have in common?”

Advertisement for USA Today touting RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company as a major advertiser
Advertising Age

Ca 1990

“KENT Sports Business”

Long-running weekly advertisement in the form of a sports news column, sponsored by P. Lorillard Tobacco Co. for Kent cigarettes
The Wall Street Journal

April 29, 1983

“Light up your sales with the People generation”

Advertisement for People Magazine
U.S. Tobacco and Candy Journal

Ca. 1981

“Over 8 million smokers enjoy the flavor of People.”

Advertisement for People Magazine
U.S. Tobacco and Candy Journal

Ca. 1980

“Come out smokin.'”

Advertisement for Time-Warner’s Sports Illustrated
U.S. Tobacco and Candy Journal

Ca. 1981

“COPY INSTRUCTIONS” for Philip Morris’ Merit Menthol cigarettes and RJ Reynolds’ Salem Full-Flavor Menthol cigarettes (2 pages)

Insert orders from Leo Burnett USA, advertising agency for Philip Morris Tobacco Corporation, for placement of a full-page color advertisement for Merit Menthol cigarettes in the October 18, 1978 issue of The Miami Herald‘s TROPIC Magazine, September 21, 1978.

Insert orders for William Esty Company, advertising agency for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, for placement of a full-page color advertisement for Salem Full-Flavor Menthol cigarettes in the October 18, 1978 issue of The Miami Herald‘s TROPIC Magazine, September 21, 1978.

COPY INSTRUCTIONS for Metropolitan Sunday Newspapers GRAVURE sections

“Insert orders” is the term for the request submitted to a publication by the advertising agency responsible for the placement of an advertisement. These two insert orders submitted on September 21, 1978 to The Miami Herald with cigarette advertisements for publication in the October 18, 1978 issue of TROPIC Magazine request that they be placed in a prominent position in the magazine. William Esty Company requests that the Salem advertisement not be placed near editorial content “incompatible with cigarette advertising.” As the publisher of Miami Magazine, Sylvan Meyer [1922-2001], who provided these items to Alan Blum, MD, in 1979, observed at the time, “They weren’t asking them not to publish articles against smoking—they were telling them.”

“The Town That Has Everything: plenty of high-paying jobs, low, taxes, four colleges, a symphony and an industry that kills 115,000 people a year.” (13 pages)

This cover story by John Dorschner in the March 18, 1979 issue of TROPIC, the Sunday magazine of The Miami Herald, features interviews with civic leaders of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in which they express unalloyed pride in RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, the mainstay of the city’s economy. Unlike the issues immediately before and after this one, there were no cigarette advertisements. Indeed, all other issues of TROPIC that year contained cigarette advertising. In a telephone call that week by Alan Blum, MD to the newspaper’s managing editor, he confirmed that cigarette advertisers were informed in advance when the story would be published.

Final Thought

Commentary , “Cancer Moonshot? We already have, but don’t appreciate an important pathway” by Alan Blum, MD in The Birmingham News, August 21, 2016.

“This year more than 480,000 Americans will die from smoking-caused diseases, including over 160,000 from heart disease and 160,000 from lung cancer. And the number is growing.

We landed a man on the moon in 1969. We’ve known even longer how to prevent over a third of cancer deaths. Let’s not keep pretending otherwise. We all have a personal responsibility to prevent teenagers from taking up cigarette smoking and to help our friends and relatives who still smoke end this irredeemably harmful addiction.”

Covering Cancer?


Curated by Alan Blum, MD

Professor and Endowed Chair in Family Medicine
Director, Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society
College of Community Health Sciences
The University of Alabama School of Medicine, Tuscaloosa

“Covering Cancer?” is Copyrighted 2022


Designed by Kevin Bailey, MA

Collections Manager and Digital Archivist (2018-2022)
Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society
College of Community Health Sciences
The University of Alabama School of Medicine, Tuscaloosa

Assisted by Bryce Callahan

Undergraduate student majoring in computer engineering
The University of Alabama

© Copyright - The Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society