Cold Turkey- 2

In 1969, Philip Morris Tobacco Company commissioned a research study on the town of Greenfield, Iowa to record the effects of the anti-smoking campaign and the experiences of the smokers who tried to quit (in connection with the filming of the movie “Cold Turkey” in the town). The town decided to encourage all the smokers to quit abruptly on August 8th, 1969 and to remain quit for at least the next 30 days (to September 6th 1969), just like the fictional characters in the movie being filmed there. The film’s star, Dick Van Dyke, commented on national TV that,
“It was crazy…you couldn’t tell where the film left off and the town began.”
6-8 months later (March-April 1970) a research team hired by Philip Morris tobacco company tried to contact everyone in the town to find out about their experiences and particularly the experiences of the smokers who tried to quit. They hired girl-scouts to hand deliver 1592 questionnaires with stamped addressed envelopes to every person in town aged 14 or over. Around 90% were returned of which 1385 contained usable responses. The townspeople were promised $5 plus a “personality profile” based on their responses to the questionnaire.
It turned out that 444 (28%) of the people returning questionnaires had been smokers immediately prior to the quit smoking campaign in August 1969. Of these smokers, 40% signed a pledge to try to quit on “Cold Turkey Day”. In fact about a third of the smokers said they really tried to quit, about a third said they made a half-hearted attempt and about a third said they didn’t try. Thus 284 (64%) of the smokers made some attempt to quit, and of these almost 60% stopped at least briefly. By the following Easter, 63 (22.2%) of those who made an attempt to quit, remained abstinent.
It was noted that only 4% of the women cigarette smokers remained quit 6 months later, and these were generally light smokers, averaging around 7 cigarettes per day. The women who didn’t try to quit or who tried but relapsed, averaged about 17 cigarettes per day.
It was also noted that those who quit smoking started to eat more nuts, gum and candy (but did not drink more alcohol) and put on around 5 pounds in weight. Those who quit smoking also devloped more nervous mannerisms, and were more likely to report feeling restless, tense and ill-tempered.
Overall, the results of this study are fairly consistent with many subsequent scientific studies of people trying to quit smoking, in finding that most (almost 80%) of those who try to quit do not remain abstinent in the medium term. Like later studies, they also found that quitters experience significant withdrawal symptoms. Interstingly, the cover of the report tells the reader that it should be referred to by its “in-house code name: BIRD”, and that, “This report contains information that is confidential to the business of the company.The information must be carefully handled and not divulged to outside sources..”
Clearly Philip Morris did not want the general public to know that they were aware that smoking is addictive, that when smokers try to quit they experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and that most fail in their attempts to go “cold turkey”.
Philip Morris’ report on the town of Greenfield going “Cold Turkey” can be found at: .
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.