A Look Back: Philip Morris and the 1969 Movie “Cold Turkey”

Promotional movie poster from the 1971 movie, "Cold Turkey," starring Dick Van Dyke

Promotional movie poster from the 1971 movie, “Cold Turkey,” starring Dick Van Dyke

In August, 1969 all of the citizens the town of Greenfield, Iowa (pop. 2,100) attempted to quit smoking as a publicity stunt in connection with the on-site filming of the movie Cold Turkey, starring Dick Van Dyke.

 In an internal project they code-named “Bird 1,” Philip Morris (PM), the manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes, surveyed the citizens of Greenfield 8 months after their quit attempt.  PM used local Girl Scouts to hand-deliver the questionnaires to citizens to increase the acceptance of the packets. The Girl Scouts were instructed to knock on doors and hand a questionnaire packet to “every person who was 14 years old on Cold Turkey Day.”  PM paid five dollars to everyone who completed and returned a survey.

This tobacco industry document is the report containing Philip Morris’ analysis of the success of citizens’ efforts to go “Cold Turkey.”  PM’s descriptions are entertaining, highly chauvinistic and of course paint a very dismal picture of quitting smoking:

“Even after eight months quitters were apt to report having neurotic symptoms, such as feeling depressed, being restless and tense, being ill-tempered, having a loss of energy, being apt to doze off, etc. They were further troubled by constipation…As can be seen from Table 3, the…differences among male smokers were sizable, but the female data are the most startling. The anti-smoking campaign failed to persuade the women to quit. We can only conjecture at the reasons for the failure: –perhaps it is because women are better at running their husbands’ lives then their own… –perhaps it is because busy housewives are less exposed to anti-smoking arguments, or less responsive to logical argument, or less apt to participate in community affairs…It is also possible that [smokers who] wish to stay off smoking have learned from experience that alcohol weakens their resolve. A sad picture is painted of the quitter who used to enjoy himself at a party, now restricted to coffee, fruit juice and coke, turning his back on the swingers in the kitchen in order to hover around the candy and peanut tray among the staid old gossips in the parlor. After one or two such experiences he probably quits partying altogether…The net effect of the extra food at mealtime and the snacks of candy, nuts, ice cream and coke had its predictable consequence: the quitters report more trouble with constipation and much more trouble with weight gain. This is not the happy picture painted by the Cancer Society’s anti-smoking commercial which shows an exuberant couple leaping into the air kicking their heels with joy because they’ve kicked the habit. A more appropriate commercial would show a restless, nervous, constipated husband bickering viciously with his bitchy wife, who is nagging him about his slothful behavior and growing waistline.”

 See a PDF of the confidential internal PM document here.

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