Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today

Larry Holzwarth - April 29, 2022

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Feminist Frances Johnston posed with a cigarette and a stein of beer, while showing her stockings, guaranteed to provoke gasps in 1896, Library of Congress

14. Cigarette smoking became the dominant form of tobacco consumption in the early 20th century

The advent of commercially manufactured cigarettes, and aggressive advertising for them, led to a boom in tobacco consumption across the globe. Even before cigarettes were commercially manufactured on a large scale, Allen and Ginter had introduced cigarette cards in their packets of cigarettes. Collections of the cards, in multiple different series, encouraged smoking. The women’s suffrage movements adopted cigarette smoking as a sign of equality, even as they merged with temperance movements to suppress alcohol consumption. Women smoking was considered a social outrage among the male leaders of the day. In 1908, a woman smoking in public in New York City was arrested for her effrontery. Congress considered banning women from smoking in the District of Columbia in the early 1920s. Eager to develop a new market for their products, cigarette companies marketed brands directly towards women.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Actress smoking. Sasha.

As had happened with snuffboxes centuries earlier, manufacturers developed new fashion items to accommodate smokers. Cigarette cases, slim boxes often made of gold or silver, elegantly engraved, appeared in jewelry stores, tobacco shops, and in department stores. They afforded the user a more debonair means of carrying cigarettes than the packs in which the product was delivered by manufacturers. Lighters also appeared, ranging in style from the mundane, mass-produced Ronson to jeweled custom-designed lighters from Tiffany. Women’s use of cigarettes expanded widely during the First World War and in the Roaring Twenties, despite efforts by governments around the world to contain it. By the 1930s women smoked freely in public, in the increasingly popular films of the day, and women’s smoking rooms were added to hotels and other establishments, to prevent feminine encroachment on the men’s smoking rooms.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Babe Ruth, who eventually died from throat cancer, endorsing a “safe” cigarette. Wikimedia

15. Backlash against tobacco use was widespread in the early 20th century

Tobacco consumption continued to rise during the first half of the 20th century. Opposition to smoking grew more fervent among numerous diverse groups. In Germany, during the 1920s and the Great Depression, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party condemned smoking as a wasteful expenditure. Hitler banned smoking in his presence, though he did not consider outlawing the practice. Like the armies of the Allies during the Second World War, the Wehrmacht issued cigarettes to soldiers and sailors as part of their rations. Advertising for cigarette companies during the first half of the 20th century became one of the first uses of celebrity endorsement. Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio appeared in print advertising for cigarettes. So did Lou Gehrig, who advertised Camel non-filtered cigarettes in magazine advertisements with the claim, “they don’t get your wind, and I can smoke as many as I please”.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
American baseball player, John Peter “Honus” Wagner (1874-1955) swinging bat at game. Undated photograph. Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images.

Not all celebrities agreed with the use of their image to endorse smoking. Honus Wagner threatened to sue when a cigarette card appeared with his image, and succeeded with getting the card withdrawn. But Wagner, one of the original five members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, did not oppose tobacco use, and both chewed tobacco and smoked cigars. He simply didn’t like cigarettes. The removal of the Wagner card contributed to it becoming one of the most valuable baseball cards to collectors. Actors appeared in advertisements endorsing cigarettes, both male and female, from the 1930s until cigarette advertising was banned in most countries. Even Santa Claus endorsed giving cigars and cigarettes as Christmas gifts. Despite the onslaught of advertising, a steady backlash, led by health professionals and researchers, warned the public of the hazards of smoking in the 20th century. The global tobacco industry fought back.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Nazi leaders in 1926. After coming to power in 1933 they launched the first government-led anti-smoking campaign in modern history. Wikimedia

16. The Germans were the first to impose national restrictions against tobacco use

In the United States throughout its first century of existence as an independent nation, excise taxes on tobacco funded up to one-third of internal revenues. Similar taxes supported the governments of many of the nations of Europe, including the United Kingdom. Few government-imposed restrictions appeared regarding where tobacco could be consumed, other than age restrictions on the right to purchase. That changed in the 1930s and 1940s when Nazi Germany began to restrict tobacco use. The German government under the Nazis funded research into the harmful nature of tobacco use. They actively campaigned against smoking and urged the public to avoid tobacco consumption. Two papers published in Nazi Germany in 1943, reported the results of studies funded by the government. Both reported the link between tobacco and cancer.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Anti-smoking campaign in Germany 1930-40s. The BMJ.

The Nazi government was the first in the world to issue restrictions on smoking in public places. Smoking was banned on public transit systems. Health lectures presented to German troops encouraged them to quit smoking, or never start. The arguments were based on health issues. Despite the lectures, cigarettes were still rationed to troops as a morale booster. Restaurants and other businesses were required to create separate smoking areas. Advertising for tobacco products was limited. Taxes on finished tobacco products, those paid by the consumer, were increased, in part to discourage smoking. Nearly all of the measures taken by governments to discourage smoking late in the 20th century were originally imposed in Nazi Germany. Measures to reduce smoking were unsuccessful. Largely as a backlash against the Nazi era, modern Germany has some of the least stringent anti-tobacco measures in the world today.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Lucille Ball endorsing Chesterfield cigarettes, before Philp Morris sponsored her hit program I Love Lucy, Wikimedia

17. Smoking tobacco peaked worldwide in the 1950s

In the 1950s, throughout the world, smoking was unrestricted and ubiquitous. People smoked wherever they wished, in grocery stores, in hospitals, in movie theaters, on planes and trains, in college classrooms and lecture halls. Every professional sports team in America’s four major sports, baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, had an official cigarette sponsor. Cigarette companies sponsored motor sports as well. When flying on airlines, a small packet of complimentary cigarettes came with meals. Television performers smoked, both in character and out, and advertised the brands which sponsored their programs. News broadcasters smoked on the air. The location of ashtrays was an important consideration when evaluating a new automobile. Cigars and pipes still had their loyal fans, as did chewing tobacco and snuff, but cigarettes dominated tobacco consumption around the globe. Tobacco remained a major product of international trade in the post-war era.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Before smoking was banned on planes in US. Business Insider.

Ominous rumblings from several governments and international health organizations led the tobacco industry to begin aggressively advertising “healthy” cigarettes. Chief among them were the filters which tipped king-size cigarettes. In the 1950s filtered cigarettes outsold unfiltered versions for the first time. Cigarette companies issued competing claims that their filters allowed full flavor while removing the harsher elements of smoke. In Britain, an estimated 81% of men smoked cigarettes (and 39% of women), and filtered cigarettes were marketed more towards the latter. During the decade the British Royal College of Physicians began collating the data connecting cigarettes to health problems, and by the end of the decade, they had enough to move toward a ban on cigarette advertising. They aimed their first volley against big tobacco at television advertising. In America, similar movements gained ground.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
1970s-era advertisement for the British Rothmans brand, which claims it is preferred by over 100 airlines. Pinterest

18. World governments began to move against tobacco use in the 1960s

In 1964 Luther Terry, then Surgeon General of the United States, released the results of an in-depth study on the health effects of smoking tobacco. The report found, unequivocally, that cigarettes were linked to cancers, heart disease, and other health issues. Supporting studies came shortly thereafter, from European and Asian countries, as well as academic institutions in the United States. The US government began what became a decades-long effort to curb consumption of tobacco. The first such step was the issuing of health warnings on cigarette packs. In 1967, the government, through the Federal Communications Commission, required television broadcasters to air one anti-smoking Public Service Announcement (PSA) for every three cigarette ads broadcast. The extensive advertising for cigarettes on television and radio was targeted next. On April 1, 1970, the United States followed Britain’s lead and banned all advertising for cigarettes on television.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
President Nixon. Wikimedia.

When President Nixon signed the act that day it was scheduled to take effect on January 2, 1971. The date was set so that broadcasters and advertisers could use the preceding New Years Day, a big sports day, to air the advertisements already bought and paid for. Such was the influence of the tobacco lobby in the United States. Despite being banned from television, cigarette advertising continued in magazines, newspapers, billboards, and other media, with many of the advertisers continuing the campaigns introduced on television. Such campaigns included the Marlboro Man, I’d rather fight than switch (Tareyton); You’ve come a long way baby (Virginia Slims, aimed at women) and many others. The television ban initiated the start of a long and continuing decline of smokers in the United States. In 1965 about 42% of the adult population smoked cigarettes. By 2017, it was less than 17%.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
Racing sponsorship allowed cigarette companies logos to be displayed on televised events, circumventing the advertising bans. Pinterest

19. Bans on other forms of tobacco advertising followed

For many years tobacco advertisers evaded the ban on television by sponsoring televised events, thus ensuring their logos and product names continued to appear on television. Automobile racing, including NASCAR, Indy Cars, Formula 1, and sports car racing, all had a heavy presence of tobacco sponsorship. NASCAR’s annual championship trophy, the Winston Cup, was named for a brand of cigarettes manufactured by R. J. Reynolds. A major horse race held in the fall of each year, as part of the Fall Championship Series, was the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap, sponsored by Philip Morris USA. Another Marlboro Cup was awarded to the winner of an international soccer tournament, again sponsored by Philip Morris. Though banned from producing and broadcasting cigarette commercials on television, tobacco companies were successful in keeping their products visible on the medium.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
The Marlboro Cup. Paulick Report.

Further crackdowns on tobacco advertising ensued, and as the 21st century began tobacco sponsored sporting events faded away. Advertising in print and on billboards followed. In response, the tobacco companies concentrated their efforts on marketing their products in emerging countries in Africa, Asia, and the former Soviet Union. Those efforts increased as local governments in Europe, the United States, Canada, and South America enacted legislation and ordinances further restricting where smoking was allowed. Nonetheless, tobacco production remained a big business worldwide. In the early 21st century, China leads the world in tobacco production, with over 2.2 million tons per annum. The United States, by comparison, produces 241,000 tons, yet still ranks fourth among tobacco-producing nations. Tobacco remains a labor-intensive, ecologically harmful, dangerous business for its cultivators and curers. Yet in many emerging countries it is an important part of the national economy.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today
The first Duke tobacco factory in Durham, North Carolina, circa 1883. Wikimedia

20. Tobacco continues to shape world trade and economies today

Tobacco first came to Europe as a result of the voyages of Christopher Columbus. It soon became a leading export from the European colonies of the New World to their mother countries in the old. From there it became a trade item with the Arab world, Asian countries, the islands of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, until it was ubiquitous worldwide. Great fortunes were made from its cultivation and production. Its production contributed to the development of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to the divisions which led to the American Civil War, and to the European Scramble for Africa in the 19th century. Yet it has done some good as well. In 1924 James Buchanan Duke endowed Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina, with $40 million of his tobacco-enhanced wealth. The school president renamed the institution Duke University, in tribute to James Duke’s father, Washington Duke.

Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today

Ironically, Duke University is home to one of the world’s leading cancer research centers. And that sums up tobacco and its impact on shaping the modern world. It has enriched thousands, and destroyed millions. It built fortunes for planters, producers, manufacturers, shippers, and retailers, as well as advertisers. The Marlboro brand, one of the most recognizable logos in the world, was worth over $30 billion by the onset of the 21st century. All of the major American tobacco companies have diversified into other industries, and both R. J. Reynolds and American Tobacco dropped the word “tobacco” from their names, with American Tobacco becoming American Brands. Yet all continue to aggressively market their tobacco products, and though smoking’s popularity in the United States has dwindled, cigarettes and other tobacco products continue to expand their markets globally.


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