One of the side benefits of researching American film history is looking at old magazines and seeing all the crazy cigarette advertisements, with movie stars making claims — often backed by white-coated doctors — that a certain cigarette is not only harmless but beneficial. Camels, for example, were supposed to aid digestion. Marlboros — marketed to women before they became the he-man cigarette — were advertised to mothers of small children. The idea was that if Mom would, no kidding, light a Marlboro she wouldn’t be screaming at her kids all the time. It would calm her nerves.
I was thinking of this yesterday when aol was leading their news site with word that a Scandinavian study concluded that cell phones did not cause an increase in brain tumors. Though some called it a 30-year study, it seemed — at least from my reading — that it concentrated mainly on the five-year period from 1998 to 2003, when cell phones got really big in that part of the world.
If there are any doctors reading this, I’d be curious what they would say about the following hypothetical. Because, with men, smoking came on gradually, over the course of a century, it would be best to limit the example to women. Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that very few women smoked until 1920, and that it really didn’t catch on in a huge way until 1928.
Now let’s say you had a study that examined lung and throat cancer rates among women from 1927 to 1932 (or even from 1902 to 1932). Knowing what we know now, that smoking causes a high incidence of those diseases, would we actually see an increase in those diseases over what is, in truth, just a 5-year period?
Maybe we would — that’s why I’d like to hear what a researcher would have to say. But it would seem to me that five years is, at least in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases, just not enough to kill yourself with smoking. I imagine that it would be in SOME cases, but that increase would be so small as to be statistically inconclusive.
Point being: The statistics from 1998 to 2003 aren’t going to tell us much. Or am I wrong?
I just wonder in 50 years if people will look at old movies, with people talking nonstop into cell phones, and feel the way we do when we see movie stars smoking in old movies: What were they, nuts? Wasn’t it just intuitively obvious that this couldn’t be healthy?
On a lighter note, check out this ridiculous advertisement featuring non-smoking Ronald Reagan, smoking a painted on cigarette. He doesn’t even claim to smoke, though he does claim to give cartons of cigarettes as Christmas gifts!
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