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The Rise and Fall of Cigarette Advertising in the United States

Electronic cigarette experts at Eversmoke discuss the history of advertising traditional cigarettes, and how it has changed in the last half century

It is no surprise that tobacco products are ill received because of their cacogenic properties, smell, cost and much more.

But once upon a time, cigarettes were highly advertised. The first known cigarette advertisement in the U.S. was for the snuff and tobacco products of P. Lorillard and Company, which ran in the New York daily paper in 1789.

This was in fact one of the earliest examples of advertising a product or service.

Early cigarette advertising (1860s to World War II)...

"Bull Durham" cigarettes, with their emphasis on how easy it was to "roll your own", was the first large-scale tobacco advertisement in the U.S. in 1868. By the late 1870s, color lithography was developed and opened up a completely new scale of advertising. Color lithography allowed companies to create better images to show their products to the world.

One way cigarette companies used color lithographs was to print pictures onto cigarette cards. These cards were once used as packaging material. However, the invention of color lithographs allowed the cards to become an early marketing strategy. Magazines (like Punch) advertised for different brands of cigarettes, snuff and pipe tobacco by the last quarter of the 19th century.

However, advertising wasn't significantly helpful until WWI and WWII when cigarettes were included in American soldiers' C-rations. It was common in fact for tobacco companies to send free cigarettes to soldiers. This distribution achieved two things: reaching all-time sales high and getting soldiers addicted to cigarettes (including achieving a brand loyalty).

Cigarette companies also gained endorsements from famous men and women and some even used children or doctors to help attract new customers. This was the age of making smoking look fashionable and modern. For the most part, these attempts worked - however, the drawback is scientists didn't understand the health ramifications of smoking yet. Moreover, since smoking's health effects weren't entirely proven, the only real opposition was made on moral grounds.

Post World War II and the beginning of TV advertising campaigns...

Prior to the 1970s, tobacco advertising was legal in the United States. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for cigarette brands to sponsor television shows frequently. The two most notable were To Tell the Truth and I've Got a Secret.

In fact, one of the most memorable television jingles of the time came from a Winston cigarettes ad. This slogan "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should!" would prove to be catchy and memorable—so much that it is still quoted today. Another good example is hit-series Gunsmoke. Two gunshots were heard in the middle of the jingle. This placement was when listeners would expect to hear the word "cigarette".

Before 1964, cigarette companies used false claims their product was safe from health risks. For example, two popular slogans stated: "Play safe with Philip Morris" and "More doctors smoke Camels". The intent of these claims was to increase sales and to combat public knowledge of smoking's negative health effects.

Sadly, much of the cigarette advertising of this time was intended to target youth. Major cigarette companies would advertise during popular youthful TV shows such as The Flintstones and The Beverly Hillbillies.

The beginning of the end of cigarette advertising (1970 to today)...

The mid-1950s saw the beginning of advertisements suggesting smoking cigarettes could be harmful. Specifically, the campaign noted smoking cigarettes could cause lung cancer along with other health dangers. This level of advertising corresponded with manufacturers adding filter tips to remove some of the tar and nicotine. Manufacturers marketed these filtered cigarettes as 'safer' and 'less potent'.

In the 1960s, the dangers of cigarette smoking were reported on a large-scale and the Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States was published. Over 7,000 scientific articles linking tobacco usage and cancer (and other diseases) were used to compile the report. It was this report that led to laws requiring warning labels on tobacco products. The report also began to restrict tobacco advertisements.

The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was passed in 1970. This anti-smoking initiative banned cigarette advertising on television and radio. After this ban, magazines, newspapers and billboards carried most of the cigarette advertising. In 1999, all cigarette billboard advertisements were replaced with anti-smoking messages.

Restrictions became tighter in 2010 with the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which prohibited tobacco companies from sponsoring sports, music and other cultural events. In addition, the act prevents the display of cigarette logos or products on T-shirts, hats, or other apparel.

As you probably know, the restrictions on cigarette advertising and where you're allowed to smoke continue to get tighter. Stores like CVS pharmacy do not even carry traditional cigarettes anymore.

Electronic cigarettes provide an alternative —to learn more, check out Eversmoke's extensive inventory of electronic cigarettes and starter kits. And please continue browsing our blog and knowledge center, as well as our e-cig vs. traditional cig comparison, for more information about the effects of smoking, electronic cigarettes and much more.

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