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Jan. 1, 1971 – The Last Televised Cigarette Ad Runs On American Television

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The last televised cigarette ad ran at 11:50 P.M. during The Johnny Carson Show on Jan. 1, 1971.

Alarming health studies had emerged as early as 1939 that linked cigarette smoking to higher incidences of cancer and heart disease and, by the end of the 1950s, all states had laws prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors.

In 1964, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed that advertisers had a responsibility to warn the public of the health hazards of cigarette smoking.

In 1969, after the surgeon general of the United States released an official report linking cigarette smoking to low birth weight, Congress yielded to pressure from the public health sector and signed the Cigarette Smoking Act.

This act required cigarette manufacturers to place warning labels on their products that stated “Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.”

On April 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed legislation officially banning cigarette ads on television and radio. At the time, tobacco companies were the single largest product advertisers on television in 1969.

By the early 1970s, the fight between the tobacco lobby and public health interests forced Congress to draft legislation to regulate the tobacco industry.

Cigarette makers defended their industry with attempts to negate the growing evidence that nicotine was addictive and that cigarette smoking caused cancer.

The ban took effect at midnight Jan. 2, 1971. The last televised cigarette ad ran at 11:50 P.M. during The Johnny Carson Show on Jan. 1, 1971.

That gave cigarette companies a final chance to advertise on TV during the New Year's Day college bowl games.

Moving forward, cigarette and tobacco ads could only be placed in a retail establishment as long as it is not displayed on the back or front of any windows. Advertisements for smokeless tobacco products on TV and radio, however, were not banned until 1986.

The tobacco industry was a huge advertising category, spending more than $150 million on television, or the equivalent of $1 billion in today's dollars.

30-second ads were less expensive to produce and buy than 60-second ads. These cheaper commercials attracted a whole new category – and revenue pool - of smaller sponsors to network television.

From this point on, the 30-second commercial would become the standard of advertising time.

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