The Good Life: Heat 'em if you got 'em

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In 1942, America was at war, creepy bellhops were all the rage and smoking was good for you. What a time to be alive.

This ad for Philip Morris asks the question, "Why is America smoking more … as shown by government figures?" but never really gets around to answering it. Its non sequitur reply is that smokers who choose Philip Morris are less likely to have an irritated nose and throat. Talk about a persuasive selling point.

The irony is that the good people who brought us the Marlboro Man are to this day ambivalent about their relationship to cancer sticks. These days, Philip Morris International, or PMI, is trying to sell us a new line: The company's future isn't cigarettes at all. It's in lower-risk tobacco products that are allegedly less harmful than cigarettes.

It wasn't until after the war that serious epidemiological rigor would be brought to studying the effects of smoking, according to medical historian Allan M. Brandt, author of "The Cigarette Century." In 1947 researchers were able to connect the statistical dots between the rising rates of lung cancer and the increasing rates of smoking (proof, at least, that this ad was right about one thing: America was smoking more).

The less-terrible-than-our-competitors strategy may not seem like a winning one at first blush, but apparently for at least 60 years PMI has embraced it. This particular ad ran in Life magazine, opposite another ad for brown sugar-cured ham, and concludes almost as an afterthought with "And do they taste good!"

Today, PMI is throwing major marketing muscle behind a device called the IQOS, a gadget that heats tobacco instead of burning it. The idea is that it will kill fewer people, but still deliver that delicious nicotine.

The FDA is skeptical. In January, an advisory panel expressed concerns about the lack of data on risks relative to regular cigarettes.

Your move, PMI. Just promise not to bring back that bellhop.

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