Fake News

The Tobacco Industry and Cigarettes in the United States: Early Beginnings to 1920

The story of tobacco is a long one in the United States. The use of tobacco in North America predated the arrival of Europeans, and tobacco was an early export to the European continent. From early times, tobacco use was controversial and linked at least anecdotally to illness. People commonly called cigarettes coffin nails and devil’s toothpicks. As the country became more industrialized in the 19th century, cigarettes were viewed as a threat to productivity. Henry Ford famously condemned cigarettes in The Case Against the Little White Slaver

During World War I attitudes largely changed, as cigarettes were seen as an important part of good morale for soldiers. Cigarettes, an accepted part of Red Cross packages, were "a companion, a solace, an item of trade while at war" and when they came home a necessity (Pimlott 502). After the war public sentiment was much more positive on smoking by men.

Acceptance for smoking by women was different, and as late as the early 1920's cigarettes were generally viewed as a dangerous and harmful habit only for women. It was claimed that in women smoking could cause problems as varied as having a mustache, to going insane. (Gritz 492).

Medical men concede that cigarette smoking in moderation is not injurious to the average normal man, for the reason that his vitality, his outdoor life and the opportunity he has for exercise will offset the injurious effect of the nicotine he inhales. But there is no counteracting influence in the case of the gentler sex. (Burke 19)

Cigarette manufacturers recognized the societal taboo against women smoking and generally observed it in their advertising. As seen here, advertisements showed me engaging in fun, healthy activities, often outdoors or playing sports. Women were present as observers only. 

As cigarette manufacturers began to recognize they were losing sales to half the population, their acceptance of restrictions against selling to women began to wear thin.  In the suffragette movement and emergence of women wanting independence, the cigarette industry recognized a golden opportunity. Executives in the industry, and those they hired to promote their products, would prove adept at both sensing in public sentiment opportunities to increase sales, and in finding ways to exploit that public opinion.

This page has paths:

This page references: