Saturday, March 03, 2007
Anti-smoking strips of the sixties
Forty years ago there was a run of strips in UK comics that presented an anti-smoking message, presumably sponsored by the government. The strips would run irregularly, and often be repeated, but their messages were clear and direct. What's interesting is a) that an anti-smoking campaign is nothing new, and b) that publishers didn't shy away from running this campaign in comics. They didn't pretend some of their young readers weren't smokers. In fact the strips portrayed children smoking. The consequences were usually a moral about health and fitness, although I recall one (which sadly I couldn't find) which took a more mercenary angle, breaking down how much cigarettes cost and how a kid would be able to afford other stuff if he gave up the fags. (If I find that one I'll add it to this posting.)
The pages entitled Bill Learns the Hard Way and A Shock for Bully Brown were drawn by Fleetway artist Tom Kerr. I'm not sure who drew the rest. I was amused by the Bully Brown one portraying the non-smoker vs smoker situation as a basic Mod vs Rocker fight. Those swingin' sixties eh?
You'll notice that all the strips are obviously designed to deter boys from smoking, and appeared in comics aimed primarily at boys. Did the girls comics feature a similar campaign I wonder? (Today, it's estimated that more women smoke than men.)
These examples were all taken from Odhams comics. Around the same time, seemingly oblivious to the campaign,(or in defiance of it) Pow! No.4 featured a girl in The Dolls of St. Dominics merrily puffing away on cigarettes and a pipe with no consequences whatsoever! (See scan above. I'm sure that the schoolgirl sitting on the builder's lap and asking him for a date wouldn't be allowed in comics today either.) Crazy days... but did the anti-smoking campaign work? Well, I for one have never been a smoker so maybe it did have some subconscious effect on myself and others, although conversely thousands of other sixties kids obviously did take up smoking. Perhaps such campaigns are ultimately pointless, showing that the direction children take is influenced by many social and environmental issues, with comic strips playing only a tiny part in it, if anything.