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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lucky Strike, Marlene Dietrich, and Suspicious Scientific Claims

If you read my article entitled Five Ways to Evaluate Suspicious Medical Claims, you will see that Step 1 is to search the peer-reviewed medical literature. These days, it is easy to do, with online tools such as PubMed. Decades ago, however, it was not so easy and consumers largely had to rely on the honesty of the company making the claim, which is always a risky proposition because the company has a conflict of interest. A good example is this Lucky Strike cigarette ad in 1950 from actress and singer, Marlene Dietrich (click to enlarge).


Note how the ad days “Scientific tests prove Lucky Strike milder than any other principal brand!” What scientific test? Oh, the one confirmed by an “independent consulting laboratory.” While this ad was used decades ago, similar advertising techniques are still used today. So, if you see claims such as this, here are a few reasons to be skeptical:

1)    It’s a sales ad.
2)    There is no citation for the scientific research study in the advertisement (current scientific literature search shows no published scientific research on whether Lucky Strikes are truly milder).
3)    The supposed independent research lab is not named.
4)    Think creatively about how words can be played with. For example, the company owning Lucky Strike (American Tobacco) could have easily hired an independent consulting company (they don’t work for free) and paid them to “independently” confirm their research interpretations. After all, it does not technically say that the consulting lab ran its own tests. It only says that scientific tests were confirmed by the independent lab. The way the sentence is written leads you with the impression that separate studies were done. But, for all we know, American Tobacco just sent them their own lab results, had them look it over, and paid them to say that their claims were true without actually doing separate research studies.

The other thing to keep in mind, related to point #1, is that American Tobacco, the company that owned Lucky Strike was paying actors and actress huge sums of money for these types of endorsements, particularly for Lucky Strikes. The relationship was mutually beneficial. While American Tobacco benefited from a Hollywood endorsement, cigarette smoking was an essential part of Dietrich’s screen image.

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