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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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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