12. Tobacco was equally important to beer during World War II
As difficult as it is to believe today, the US government considered the loss of tobacco to its troops during World War II would be catastrophic for morale. Cigarettes were included in field rations. Untaxed cigarettes were sold in exchanges and in the Navy’s ship’s stores. Tobacco processors were told that 30% of all cigarettes were to be set aside for the military, as part of the price for continued production. Welcoming a new and promising to grow market group for its products, tobacco companies willingly complied. Lucky Strike, a widely popular brand of the day, changed its packaging, removing the green background which had long surrounded its logo. They claimed the change was due to Lucky Strike going to war, the green ink for the background dropped so it could be used for uniform dyes. In truth, the change was a marketing ploy rather than a patriotic gesture.
Smoking was encouraged in most military units. “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” became military parlance for taking a break. Cigarettes were consumed in the foul air of submerged submarines, aboard transport aircraft, on ship’s bridges, and virtually everywhere troops gathered. Clubs were filled with a smoky haze, though in fairness so were their civilian counterparts. FDR smoked cigarettes in long holders; it’s being cocked from his mouth in a jaunty angle became one of his trademarks. Eisenhower smoked upwards of six-packs per day, sometimes more. Among the military, pipes and cigars had their proponents as well. MacArthur’s corncob pipe became part of his image, along with his aviator sunglasses. The stub of the cigar in one’s mouth, well chewed, became synonymous with being a tough officer for some, especially in films. Tobacco proved essential to keeping morale high and the troops happy during the Second World War.