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Did intactivists catch doctors with the smoking gun?

Published September 21, 2019

Updated October 1, 2021

Medical professionals belong to the most highly respected professions in America, [1] Parents trust physicians to provide accurate, unbiased, sober, and scientifically valid information and advice. "Doctors are about as respected as any occupation can possibly be. If you consider monetary compensation an indicator of value, they're right at the top, and the talent and effort required to become a doctor is awe-inspiring. They're not only brilliant and accomplished, they're dedicated to keeping the rest of us alive." [2]

With respected medical authorities promoting the benefits of circumcision, opponents of the procedure have a formidable challenge. In July we showed that they incite confusion by creating faux medical groups that parrot intactivist talking points and hysteria. Another way they sow seeds of distrust is by trying to convince parents that the medical profession has a record of providing unsound advice.

Two attempts to discredit doctors involve the use of vintage advertisements. As the argument goes, we now recognize that earlier generations relied on medical advice about cigarette smoking and soft drinks that turned out to be unhealthy. Intactivists say that future generations will realize that doctors have been wrong about circumcision.

Is it true? Did physicians actually promote smoking and soda pop? Let's investigate.


Anti-circumcision organizations like Your Whole Baby and Intact America claim that doctors promoted cigarette smoking. They present an ad with the peculiar headline, "MORE DOCTORS SMOKE CAMELS THAT ANY OTHER CIGARETTE." Intact America tweets: "Doctors once recommended smoking cigarettes" and warns: "Doctors aren't always right!" [3]

Stanford University conducted an extensive study on tobacco advertising, [4] revealing the truth about this deceptive advertising campaign. The individuals depicted in these ads were not real doctors; they were actors. The Stanford researchers reported:

"One common technique used by the tobacco industry to reassure a worried public was to incorporate images of physicians in their ads. The none-too-subtle message was that if the doctor, with all of his expertise, chose to smoke a particular brand, then it must be safe.

Unlike with celebrity and athlete endorsers, the doctors were never specific individuals, because physicians who engaged in advertising would risk losing their license. (It was contrary to accepted medical ethics at the time for doctors to advertise.) Instead, the images always presented an idealized physician wise, noble, and caring who enthusiastically partook of the smoking habit. All of the doctors in these ads [were] actors dressed up to look like doctors...

In an attempt to substantiate the More Doctors claim, R.J. Reynolds paid for surveys to be conducted during medical conventions using two survey methods: Doctors were gifted free packs of Camel cigarettes at tobacco company booths and them upon exiting the exhibit hall, were then immediately asked to indicate their favorite brand or were asked which cigarette they carried in their pocket."

No doctors were involved in the tobacco industry advertising campaign. Intactivists who blame the medical profession are being dishonest.


Circumcision opponents also cite a vintage cola ad. They use this one less often, perhaps because the ad doesn't imply a medical endorsement. The sponsor is identified as The Soda Pop Board of America, and the ad cites recent laboratory tests that show a correlation between soda consumption and social acceptance.

Doctors were not responsible for the laboratory testing. In fact there were no laboratory tests. Nor was there a "Soda Pop Board of America". The ad itself is fictitious - created in 2002 by a man named R.J. White. Several years later he explained why:

"Many, many years ago, I made this fake ad exhorting parents to give soda to their babies. It was done on a bored afternoon when J.D. Ryznar asked for someone to make that very specific thing on his livejournal in 2002. [5] I whipped it together, posted it to the web, joke over.

THEN. A couple of years later- it started showing up online, in those weird lists that pop up every so often with a 'Oh man, ads sure were strange back then, weren’t they?' theme. Thing is, those ads are largely real and mine is not and very obviously so. It has made people angry about evil corporations wanting to put chemicals in your kids’ bodies. It has been in text books. It has even been on Ellen as a real old ad (and latter edited out once I emailed them). I’ve seen people selling it on posters and fake old-timey tin signs. Just so you know.

It is very fake. There was never a Soda Pop Board of America. There was never an organization advocating for soda for babies." [6]

Corporations did promote soda pop consumption for babies and young children. Intactivists could have shown authentic vintage ads that depict babies with 7-Up. [7] By using this forgery intactivists show that they - not doctors - are the real fools.


Medical professionals aren't perfect. They make mistakes. Future generations of doctors may have access to newer studies, developing technology, and enhanced ethical standards. That being said, the fact that some doctors are wrong on occasion does not detract from the overall high standards and ethics of the medical profession. Contemporary physicians who were educated at universities and medical schools and who serve in modern medical facilities have access to current studies and vast medical knowledge.

As they seek to sew seeds of public distrust in the medical profession, intactivists misuse the vintage ads. It takes just a little research to learn that one ad was a tobacco company deception and the other ad is fake. Ironically these malicious attempts to attack public confidence in the medical profession actually further taint the intactivist movement. Circumcision opponents have a consistent record of inaccuracy and dishonesty. So it's far more likely in a dispute between circumcision practitioners and circumcision opponents that intactivists are the ones in error.

Trust your doctor; he's looking out for your health. The intactivist just wants to sell you snake oil.

[1] Niall McCarthy; "America's Most Prestigious Professions In 2016"; Forbes; March 31, 2016. "The Harris Poll recently released a ranking of the nation's most prestigious professions in 2016 with doctor coming in at number one. Nine out of every 10 American adults see doctor as a prestigious profession with older generation."

[2] Jon Skindzier; "Top 10: Most Respected Professions"; Ask Men; June 17, 2011

[3] Intact America tweet; September 30, 2021

[4] "Research into the impact of tobacco advertising"; Stanford University. HASamji, RK Jackler; "'Not One Single Case of Throat Irritation': Misuse of the Image of the Otolaryngologist in Cigarette Advertising"; The Laryngoscope; January 2, 2009

[5] J.D. Ryzner; "Favor From Clever Dudes"; March 4, 2002

[6] R.J. White; "Soda for babies"; The City Desk

[7] Rupal Parekh; "Rewind: '50s era 7Up campaign depicted soda-guzzling babies"; Ad Age; August 27, 2012


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