Fifty Years of Marlboro: A Cause for "Celebration"?

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I saw the posters everywhere this weekend "Celebrating Fifty Years of Flavor": Celebrating Marlboro Cigarettes!

Celebrating? Under what possible circumstance should we be celebrating the anniversary of the introduction of a product that is the leading cause of preventable death in America? It is bad enough that we tolerate it--and turn our heads away from the billions of dollars spent annually to advertise and promote it.

But we have to celebrate it, too?

Philip Morris introduced the modern day Marlboro cigarette in early 1955. Actually, Marlboros were originally introduced in the 1920's in an effort to encourage women to smoke. The packaging motto: "Mild as May"--just right for the very feminine women who would not want a "man's" cigarette, but something more likely to complement her softer, less aggressive style. The product was pretty much a flop, even when it was re-introduced a few years later with an advertising gimmick that bragged the product had replaced its ivory tip with a red one which would be more compatible with a lady's lipstick.

Enter the Leo Burnett Company in the 1950's--just when the scientific data linking smoking and lung cancer was emerging in a really big way. Proving once again the tobacco industry's ability to turn lemons into lemonade, the PM folks and their advertisers decided to take advantage of the growing anxiety about smoking and health--and introduce a very masculine product with a filter. The "tattooed" Marlboro man made his debut in 1955--with a "filter, flavor and flip-top box." The brand was an instant success. The rugged, outdoorsman image of the Marlboro man eventually took the form of a cowboy, an image that catered to the machismo of smoking men and basically promised them a masculine ego boost--one which would more than compensate for the "health scares" swirling about.

Marlboro cigarette are unquestionably among the most successful products in American business, representing a very sad chapter in the history of marketing. With that success came millions of cases of lung cancer and other cigarette related diseases... and deaths.

Celebrating Marlboro's 50 years?? The fact that PM/Altria would attempt to associate such an upbeat theme with human tragedy only underscores the company's ongoing arrogance and chutzpah.