The Ad Men

It was not certain that cigarettes would ever become the most popular way to deliver nicotine.  Even Buck Duke never appreciated the full potential of the cigarette, staying mostly in chewing tobacco.

During World War I, the government furnished soldiers’ ration kits with cigarettes, and countless volunteer drives sent millions more to the troops overseas. Cigarettes helped soldiers cope with the deprivations of trench life and the horrors of battle.

Returning soldiers continued to smoke.  By the late 1920s, cigarettes had gained middle-class respectability. Cultural changes and marketing during the 1930s made cigarette smoking socially acceptable.

Ads promoted the technological advances and health benefits of filtered cigarettes, a novelty in the 1930s.  Health-themed cigarette promotion highlights two of the many cultural changes and marketing practices during the 1930s that saw cigarette smoking become a popular, social practice for both men and women.

In their ads, cigarette manufacturers often invoked medical authority.  A typical ad might show a man in a white lab coat.  This “physician,” staring intently at the reader while holding up a cigarette, symbolically links medical expertise to consumer safety and health. The ad’s text would declare that people smoked cigarettes for their pleasure made possible by high-quality tobacco and production methods. Cigarettes provided “pleasure, satisfaction and comfort,” but were “not in any sense a cure-all.” A cure for what exactly went unexplained, only that the smoker’s enjoyment came from the “clean, gratifying smoke” of top-grade tobacco.

American cigarette advertising from the 1930s until the 1950s, especially with Camels, had fictional and actual doctors endorse the “throat-easy” mildness of Camels.  The ad’s text does not mention throat irritation, coughing, or sinus troubles, all complaints made by cigarette smokers in the 1930s.

“Trust me, I’m a doctor.”   Always be wary when you hear this; it can be dangerous.

Dr. Herman Godwin, M. D.

Daniel J. Robinson, “Cigarette Marketing and Smoking Culture in 1930s Canada.” Journal of the Canadian Historical  Association, Volume 25, Issue 1, 2014, p. 63–105, Aug. 28, 2015.

To describe tobacco advertising in this era as hyperbole would be an understatement.  The ads in magazines hinted at the health benefits of smoking, including a calming effect on the nerves and disposition, despite that there was little evidence of this claim.  We now have a mountain of medical evidence, but to criticize the market pitches of the Thirties is somewhat unfair. They must be viewed in the context of the times.  Americans loved smoking, and people had far more pressing problems – like finding enough money to stave off hunger, a problem that they undoubtedly saw as far more immediate than any ills that might come from smoking, thirty or forty years down the road.