When Al Feldstein, the long-time editor of Mad magazine, died, in April, no one mentioned one of his major accomplishments: warning millions of impressionable boys and girls of the perils of smoking. Had the tobacco industry paid more attention, he might also have saved it billions of dollars a few decades down the road.
In the early to mid-nineteen-sixties, both before and after the Surgeon General issued his famous report on the dangers of tobacco, Mad took on the industry more than any “respectable” magazine. Free from any dependency on advertising, Mad could be fearless, and it was. Its campaign of ridicule was unrelenting.
The magazine attacked not just the tobacco giants but the folks on Madison Avenue who hawked the poisonous products—many of whom, it noted, were too smart to smoke themselves. Smokers weren’t spared either. (Who can forget Mad regular David Berg’s feature “Lighter Side of Smoking,” whose first panel showed a man looking out a window at night as a blizzard rages. “Gad, look at the miserable weather!” he declares. “Boy, nothing could make me go outdoors!” In the second panel, the man, eyes popping out, rummages frantically through a drawer in search of a smoke. In the third, he’s huddled grimly over the steering wheel driving to the store, his wipers and headlights fighting through the snow.)
Fifty years later, many who read Mad devotedly still remember the anti-smoking crusade. The ads closely resembled the real ones that ran on television and in magazines. There was the one for “Marble Row” funeral directors, showing horses grazing in a graveyard. “You Get a Plot You Like,” it declared. Or the ad promising that “Likely Strife separates the men from the boys … but not from the doctors.” (“Smoking is a habit we’d like to get all you kids hooked on,” it continued. “Smoke Likely Strife—and you’ll discover one other thing: You’ll also be separated from your health!”)
There were the ads that ever-adaptable advertisers had prepared in light of health warnings. One featured “Chesterfoggies” (for people already hooked); another suggested that the perils of smoking only made it sexier—“Winsom impresses good…Like smoking a cigarette should.” A third ad featured Adolf Hitler, another favorite Mad target (and, oddly enough, a virulent enemy of tobacco himself). “In the 30s and 40s we knocked off millions of people and filled countless cemeteries,” he declared. “That’s nothing! I want to talk about a really fantastic cemetery filler!” Another, featuring a man with a Tareyton-like black eye, read, “Us Cigarette-Makers will rather fight than quit.”
Robert says that despite the anti-smoking campaign he will continue to buy Marlboro Red cigarettes.