In mid-century America more doctors may have smoked camels, but pregnant women preferred Philip Morris.
At least as far as my own baby-bound mother was concerned.
In 1954 it would be a good tens years before the Surgeon General’s landmark report concluded that there was a link between lung cancer and cigarette smoking, so until then my mother blissfully puffed away while pregnant with me.
Besides which, my second time Mom had first hand knowledge on pregnancy. She knew frequent cigarette breaks came in mighty handy to quiet pregnancy jitters.
Two years earlier in 1952 while pregnant with my older brother, my first time mother Betty was a bundle of nerves.
Like many moms-to-be, she had a good case of the impending-mother jitters. Not only could she feel overwhelmed at the thought of being a mother, her head was filled with stories of everything that could go wrong for her and her unborn baby.
But lucky for Betty her obstetrician was there to gently help dispel all her concerns.
In her second trimester, Mom had gone for her usual monthly set of maternal x-rays at the obstetrician office. Before she even had a chance to share her anxieties with the doctor, he noticed she had a mild cough.
Padding over to his tall steel medical cabinet Dr Orenstein pulled out a pack of Philip Morris cigarettes. Along with tinctures, ointments, and penicillin, the painted cabinet was well stocked with dozens of cigarette cartons, tokens of appreciation received at medical conventions over the years courtesy of Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds.
Handing her the familiar gold pack, he assured her, “You can kiss your cough goodbye Betty. You’ll soon feel better because you’ll be smoking the cigarette recommended by eminent nose and throat specialists to patients who smoke.”
“You’ll feel better,” continued the doctor, pausing to light up a Camel for himself, “because in case after case coughs due to smoking disappear, parched throats clear up…that stale smoked out feeling vanishes. Tests showed 3 out of every case of smokers cough cleared on changing to Phillip Morris.”
“And,” he added smiling broadly, “it was the same brand comedienne Lucille Ball smoked…and a pregnant Lucy at that!”
Mom loved Lucy.
Everyone knew the popular Monday night show I Love Lucy was sponsored by cigarette giant Phillip Morris.
The animated titles that opened the show even featured stick figures of Lucy and Desi climbing a giant pack of Philip Morris Cigarettes interacting with Johnny Roventini the diminutive bellboy who for nearly 2 decades had been belting out the Philip Morris slogan “Cal-l-l for Phil-lip Mor-ray-sss!”
Although Mom had been a loyal Lucky Strike smoker for years, everyone was familiar with the Philip Morris ads that ran for years.
Featuring the four-foot bellhop who happily made health claims stating that “medical authorities recognize that Philip Morris proved less irritating to the smokers nose and throat.”
Naturally other cigarettes made similar health claims always supported by scientific research and glowing doctors endorsements.
Chesterfield for example boldly announced the results of a ten month scientific study in one ad: “Nose throat and accessory organs not adversely affected by smoking Chesterfield,” while Camels could claim that “noted throat specialists concluded that not one case of throat irritation was due to smoking Camels.” No mention was made on its effect on the subjects lungs!
Opening up the current issue of Journal of the American Medical Association Dr Orenstein pointed out an advertisement to Mom which showed a physician writing on a prescription pad: “For your patients with sore throats and cough, Phillip Morris cigarettes.”
Of course buried deep in those same pages of the medical journal, tucked between ads for cigarettes were early reports suggesting a plausible relationship between smoking and lung cancer.
In fact, in May 27 1950 JAMA published the first major study linking smoking to lung cancer and after 1953 the medical journal would no longer accept adverting from tobacco companies.
Let Up and Light Up!
Besides the benefits to her throat , her doctor stressed out how beneficial cigarettes were for rattled nerves.
“Don’t be such a brooder Betty,” he smiled at my mother offering a light for her cigarette. She drew deeply of the fragrant smoke, the cool mildness of the tobacco tars a treat to her throat.
“Relax!” the doctor advised. Modern pregnancy he assured her was a modern miracle. No Fuss no muss.
Gently patting my mother’s hand he tried to calm my fretting mother. “Nowadays pregnancy is a breeze.”
To help her achieve piece of mind, he assured her she’d be on her way to a calm and collected motherhood if she’d relax and prepare. “Just as a healthy dose of arsenate of lead mixed in the soil before planting would produce a fine healthy lawn, you’ll have a fine healthy baby if you relax and prepare.” Nothing was more important than steady nerves.
And nothing would help you relax like a soothing cigarette.
“Cigarettes contain not just one but a combination of medically proven active ingredients to sooth frayed nerves,” explained the doctor. He promised it would “restore her flow of healthful energy , …a quick and delightful energizing effect!”
“Quit being a worry wort, Betty, ‘laughter,” he said referencing the famous Readers Digest section “was the best medicine’ and smoking was like a doctor’s prescription for relaxation.”
Mom tossed the pack into her purse, and with a new lilt in her walk, happily anticipated the birth of her new baby, and a great tasting new cigarette.
“Let up and light up and laugh,” he advised Mom shooing her out of the office.
The Last Laugh
In May, Mom had delivered a whopping 4 pound premature baby boy, and now and now she had her hands full.
This mothering business was tuckering poor Mom out and she could be dog tired in the evening .That was just one of the many, many times during the day when she wanted to “Let up and light up.”
By December her diaper decorated world kept her too busy for words.
She barely had spare time to flip through a magazine, open a newspaper or even keep up with the news! With so many new things to learn and discover about one tiny bit of humanity, she said sighing, that there doesn’t seem to be time to catch up with the rest.
But Monday nights at 9pm were set aside as her half hour of relaxation all week, when along with 40 million other viewer she looked forward to watching “I Love Lucy.”
With the dinner dishes washed, laundry folded, and baby bottles sterilizing in the electric sterilizer, patiently awaiting refill of tomorrow’s formula, all was finally quiet. Mom could sit back and give my brother his evening feeding. Shaking the baby bottle the milk felt pleasantly warm on Mom’s writs as she settled in with a soothing cigarette, in one hand, baby bottle in the other.
While she waited for Lucy to begin she flipped through the current issue of Reader Digest turning to her favorite features first. After chuckling at the heartwarming humor of “Life in These United States” and giggling over the gags provided by “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” a more serious article caught her attention.
It was anything but laughable.
Nestled between “The real meaning of Xmas’ and “We’re selling America Short” was an article entitled “ Cancer by the Carton.” Ominously linking smoking and lung cancer, it was the first widely read article that brought attention to the public about the dangers of smoking.
Brushing the magazine aside, she looked up at the TV screen just as the familiar stick figures of Lucy and Desi made their weekly climb up the giant pack of Philip Morris Cigarettes.
Though the widely read Readers Digest article would eventually provoke a lot of talk, in 1952 my mother could never imagine a time when “Life in These United States” would be smoke free.
As if squirreling the article’s information away for a rainy day, Mom let up, lit up and laughed.
It was just what the doctor ordered!
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Smoking and Pregnant- Just What the Doctor Ordered Pt II The tobacco industry goes on the offensive