Editorial cartoon exhibit: Smoking is the butt of their humor
■ Newspaper cartoonists have provided a breath of fresh air in the nation's ongoing effort to address its tobacco addiction.
By Stephanie Stapleton — Posted May 7, 2007
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The themes are varied, brought to life by a multitude of images -- from the fat cat tobacco executives to kids attracted to Joe Camel's cool.
All are part of "Cartoonists Take Up Smoking," an exhibit curated at the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society in Tuscaloosa that is built around the work of a core group of 55 cartoonists addressing tobacco issues spanning nearly the last half century. It also features artifacts such as the original newspaper headlines that inspired the drawings, an original copy of the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health, and a display of the Kent Mironite filter that contained asbestos and was advertised as safe and pure enough to filter air in hospitals.
With such items, the exhibit seeks to detail the nation's ongoing struggle with tobacco in general and cigarettes in particular. "The wide-ranging controversies surrounding tobacco are captured in the cartoons, from the misguided quest for a safe cigarette to the targeting of tobacco advertising to women and minority groups," explained Alan Blum, MD, in a statement. He founded and directs the center and decades ago began the memorabilia collection it now houses.
The highlighted cartoons cover a broad swath of public opinion. Some convey adamantly anti-smoking messages, while others are critical of this crusade. Anyone can be a target -- Big Tobacco, finger-waggers, lawyers, politicians and even smokers. The artwork has power -- using humor to deconstruct the intricacies involved.
Dr. Blum, also a University of Alabama professor of family medicine, began developing this exhibit in 1995. But his fascination with the intersection of tobacco and popular culture dates back to the 1950s, when, as a child, his father encouraged him to begin the collection. As his stash grew, so did his opposition to smoking. By the time he went to medical school in the 1970s, he assumed everyone would be against smoking. He soon learned this wasn't the case. In 1977, he founded an anti-smoking group, Docs Ought to Care. He kept collecting and now describes his efforts as "a daily biopsy of this issue."
Dr. Blum views the role of cartoonists in the tobacco debate as pivotal. Nationally, he said, cartoonists have had a herd effect. "When they took on Joe Camel, they laughed Joe Camel out of existence." But they also have had significant impact on advancing local clean indoor air laws and smoking bans -- affecting opinions of voters as well as mayors and other local officials.
"Cartoonists Take Up Smoking" debuted in 2004 at the Ann Tower Gallery in Lexington, Ky., in conjunction with the Assn. of American Editorial Cartoonists annual convention. Most recently, it appeared at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., and in the Nebraska State Capitol Rotunda in Lincoln. Its next stop is this month at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York. For more information about this and the center's other tobacco-related exhibits, e-mail the center ([email protected]" target="_blank">link).