Exploring Human Potential

When The Wool Is Pulled Over Your Eyes (Again) … IT’s Not Exactly “Breaking News”!

Posted on | February 3, 2020 | No Comments

Mike Magee

In this age of hucksterism and “fake news”, we Americans need to accept the fact that we’re too easy a mark, too naïve, too corruptible. And don’t blame our elected leaders – they’re simply a reflection of us.

Just take a look at our health care system, overrun with profiteering, one of only two nations in the world that allows direct-to-consumer advertising, a world where a man like Arthur Sackler could be honored in the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame and have his name brandished on the top medical education conglomerates across the nation.

The fix we’re in is self-made and chronic. Consider the fact that tobacco companies (and that includes modern-day vapers like Juul) have been well acquainted with the profession for many decades. Through the 1930’s and 1940’s, when money was tightest because of the Depression, cigarette manufacturers were a major source of revenue to the two top medical journals in the country – the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the New England Journal of Medicine published by the Massachusetts Medical Society. Not only were they a major source of advertising revenue to these organizations, but they also were grand sponsors of the organizations’ medical meetings.

Cigarette companies have always been inventive and integrative public affairs marketers. And that was clearly evident at the time. Take for example how they played to the doctor’s ego in an ad in 1939 with the tag lines “Every doctor is a doubter”. The argument, straight from the finest minds of the finest PR agencies in New York City said, “If you advise patients on smoking – and what doctor does not – you will find important data in the studies listed below. May we send you a set of reprints?”

RJ Reynolds upped the “Public Affairs” ante on Philip Morris in 1942 by creating the Medical Relations Division (MRD). Not to worry that the MRD was directed by A. Grant Clarke who had no medical or scientific background whatsoever, but rather was in advertising; nor that all mailings were being processed, in and out, by the William Esty Advertising company.

Phillip Morris was an expected presence at the AMA’s 1942 Annual Convention in Atlantic City. Their convention floor exhibit drew quite a crowd, thanks in part to their ad in JAMA which solicited doctors to visit their on-floor, smoking lounge where they could “Drop in, Rest…read…smoke…or just chat.”

During those years, Philip Morris took a more direct approach. They placed themselves in the AMA and its members shoes, fighting for respect and autonomy, fearful of President Truman sponsored “socialized medicine”, and short on cash. Without even being asked, they ran a full blown public relations campaign on behalf of American doctors.

A wartime doctor ad in 1944 read: “He wears the same uniform. . . . He shares the same risks as the man with the gun. . . . Yes, the medical man in the service today is a fighting man through and through, except he fights without a gun. . . . [H]e’s a trusted friend to every fighting man. . . .[H]e well knows the comfort and cheer there is in a few moments’ relaxation with a good cigarette . . . like Camel . . . the favorite cigarette with men in all the services.”

Was the doctor being commended or exploited? One ad so effectively mines nostalgia, it could bring tears to the eyes of any doctor (including me) who has had to drag his tired ass out of bed in the middle of the night. It shows a pajama clothed, middle aged male, phone in hand, black bag an arm’s length away, ready for service, and the explanation: “24 hours a day your doctor is ‘on duty.’…When there’s a job to do, he does it. A few winks of sleep. . . a few puffs of a cigarette. . and he’s back at the job again.”

Health professionals, like elected federal officials last week, were targeted not for their individual buying powerful, but rather for their influence on larger group purchasing – whether that be tobacco or vaping capsules, or votes.

And its not that we Americans today are more ignorant than other peoples around the world, but we do seem to be remarkably slow at realizing we’re being played for suckers. “Not Willing To Hear Evidence” may have been last week’s dominant headline, but it wasn’t exactly “Breaking News.”  Burying our heads in the sand can have a cumulative effect. With Democracy, let alone health care, in the balance, it’s time to finally shake off our complacency, pay attention, seek the truth, and be responsible citizens of this great nation.


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