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Here’s an odd and at times unintentionally humorous anti-smoking comic from the 1960s – Where There’s Smoke…

July 21, 2013


Comics with their young readership have always been a prime target for well-meaning free PSAs, those designed to get the word out about the various scourges threatening youth, from tooth decay to child abuse and everything in between. Smoking has always been one of the prime villains in this arena, and indeed, we’ve seen eclectic assortments of superheroes tackle it on this very blog. Today’s comic is distinctive, though. You see, it’s so very strange yet so very square, it seems tailor-made for our mocking God, they were so goofy back then post-millennial jibes.  

Where There’s Smoke…, as indicated by the cover you see above, was published (in 1965) by the American Cancer Society, and its front and back covers are printed on the same newsprint stock as the interior pages, much like the railroad propaganda we looked at earlier this year. The front cover functions as the first panel of the story within. Two young friends, Rickey and Ted, are in Rickey’s bedroom, enjoying the smooth, rich flavor of their cigarettes, when Rickey’s younger sister blabs to Mom that she smells smoke coming from his room. End of smoke break. There’s no yelling or recriminations, but Ted high-tails it out of there, and it’s “Wait till your father gets home” time for Rickey. Now my old man would have walked through the front door, been informed of this smoking business, and subjected me to an hours long harangue/interrogation at the kitchen table, similar to what you might expect a captured spy to sit through, minus the car battery electrocutions and rubber hoses. This father is a bit more even-keeled — and, in defense of mine, a lot more square:


A parent starting any sentence with “Well, I hear that…” ensures that the intended listener hears none of what follows.

Dad gives Rickey some things to mull, though it all rings a little hollow since Mom is a smoker. Later that evening Rickey heads out to play, and during a break from a volleyball game, his friend Ted lights up again. Enter Mr. Wright (who surely made some bachelorette very happy), a “playground instructor” — whatever the hell that is — with a savage crew-cut who wanders over and confirms that, yes indeed, cigarettes are bad for you:


Mr. Wright’s intervention doesn’t stop there, though. You see, he’s heading to the county fair the next day (Saturday), and he’s heard that there’s going to be an exhibit on the dangers of smoking there. He invites the kids to go with him. You’d think that such a weekend excursion would have the kids begging off with every bad excuse under the sun (“Um, sorry, but I have to wash my grandmother’s hair. Bye!”), but no. Before we know it, Mr. Wright has a car full of kids and he’s off to the fair, like an anti-smoking Jesus with his disciples. (What a trusting time this was, by the way.)

The exhibit, run by a schoolmarmish matron straight out of central casting, doesn’t disappoint. The entrée to get the boys’ attention is, naturally, sports, and then it’s a sideways move to the bar graphs:


What, that two-bar graph isn’t enough to sate your hunger for quantified, illustrated knowledge? Here’s another, but with morbid black this time:


Still not satisfied? You want the full USA Today treatment? Gaze upon this final graph, and its rising tide of lung cancer:


You want to know about the tar in cigarettes?:


Really, that doesn’t look like that much tar. I’m pretty sure I saw guys chug more of worse back when I was in college.

Wait — how did they extract all that tar? They actually have a Rube Goldberg smoking device on hand, one that puffs multiple cigarettes at the same time. I like to think of this doohickey as Pan’s Flute from Hell (or The Xylophone of Lost Souls):


Lest you think this exhibit only relies on modern technological marvels to establish the dangers of smoking, there’s also good old fashioned animal experimentation:


Thumper has cancer, kids! Now go get yourselves some cotton candy! (Question: If you were a rabbit caged in an animal testing lab, would you rather have lipstick smeared on your rectum or smoke cigarettes all day? Do I even have to ask?)

The kids depart, thoroughly chastened by this trip through Cancerland. Thanks, Mr. Wright. And when Rickey gets home, Dad has one last word for him:


Yes, children always love it when their father incorporates suicide imagery, brain splatter and all, into his life lessons. Such things leave no scars. Kids, even though it hasn’t been made yet, there’s a film called The Deer Hunter that I’d like you to watch…. It’s no surprise that haggard, tired-looking Mom resolves to quit smoking immediately after Dad puts the imaginary gun to his head. AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Just to seal the deal, the back cover has an assortment of non-smoking athletes, including Bobby Richardson, Bill Russell and Bart Starr:


There. My work here is done. Now for a celebratory cigar.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. docvoltage permalink
    July 23, 2013 11:09 am

    I have got to find me a copy of this little gem! Would you have a complete scan by any chance, please ? I’m a Radiation Oncologist and specialize in lung cancer (along with brain tumors), so I find this interesting from more than one angle.

    As an aside: I got a good friend to quit smoking about 15 years ago. One day as she was lighting up, I pulled out a business card and told her to keep it in her wallet because she’d need it. She gave me the devil’s own look, but put down what was her last cigarette. That was a PSA that actually worked !

    • July 23, 2013 8:34 pm

      I didn’t scan the whole comic, but what you see posted is a fairly comprehensive survey of it. If you’re really keen on seeing it all, maybe try tracking it down on eBay or something — it won’t be (or shouldn’t be) expensive.

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