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8 unscrupulous ways that cigarettes were promoted in vintage adverts

Television and newspaper adverts warning about the risks of smoking are now appearing across the United States as the result of the landmark 2006 legal ruling that finally concluded tobacco firms misled the American public on the dangers of cigarettes.

These ads are not being placed by cancer charities or health organisations – they are funded by the major tobacco companies themselves, under the orders of the US federal courts.

But just how much did the tobacco firms mislead people? We looked at tobacco adverts placed in numerous vintage magazines from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s offered for sale on AbeBooks.com. The ads showed cigarette firms were using almost every marketing ploy in the book to promote their products, ranging from celebrity endorsement to lifestyle advertising and technical mumbo jumbo extolling health benefits.

1 Cigarettes are healthy

For years, Lucky Strike cigarettes claimed their “toasting” process made their cigarettes better for you than the smokes offered by rival companies. Interestingly, they admitted that “harsh irritants” were present in raw tobacco but their manufacturing process removed them.

“It’s toasted. Your Throat Protection – against irritation – against cough.

“Harsh irritants present in all raw tobacco are expelled by toasting. They are not present in your LUCKY STRIKE. No wonder LUCKIES are always kind to your throat.”

Fortune Magazine, June 1931

This ‘ancient prejudice’ advert from Lucky Strike takes the scientific technical jargon a step further, claiming “harmful corrosive acrids” have been removed by the toasting process.

“No throat irritation” – a Lucky Strike advert from 1929

Craven A cigarettes combined health, a sporty lifestyle and two beautiful people in this to-the-point advert from the Illustrated London News in August 1934. At least the polo player is wearing protective headwear. “For your throats’ sake – smoke Craven A.”

Craven showed the upper classes enjoying their cigarettes

2 Celebrities smoke – cigarettes must be good

Anyone who was anyone flogged cigarettes in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s. Ronald Reagan, during his acting career, often appeared in cigarette adverts. Our examples show Fred Astaire and his sister Adele endorsing Chesterfield cigarettes during their run in The Band Wagon musical on Broadway in 1931, and John Gilbert appearing in a Lucky Strike advert that appeared in the September 1929 issue of Photoplay magazine. Gilbert was one of the stars of the silent movie era, rivaling Rudolph Valentino as Hollywood’s leading man.

Fred and Adele Astaire selling Chesterfields

Silent movie star John Gilbert selling Lucky Strike smokes

Even Santa Claus smokes according this seasonal Lucky Strike ad, which appeared in the January 1937 issue of Needlecraft Home Arts Magazine. We could have lived with Father Christmas puffing on a pipe but a cigarette simply looks wrong.

Naughty or nice? Santa smoking a cigarette

3 Cigarettes are cool

Adverts portraying cigarettes as the essential element in a cool lifestyle were commonplace. This Fortune Magazine advert from August 1930 shows a beautifully designed beach scene with three good-looking young people enjoying their cigarettes. It’s Jazz Age style personified.

An example of lifestyle marketing

4 Cigarettes are fresh

Camels claimed their cigarettes were fresher than the smokes offered by the opposition. Their “Humidor Pack” apparently guaranteed freshness and the copywriter doesn’t hold back on the hyperbole in this advert that appeared in Fortune Magazine in June 1931. “Now, wherever you go, you can always be sure of getting a fresh, throat-easy cigarette when you demand Camels.” There’s nothing to explain the actual properties of a Humidor pack.

Camels claimed “Humidor” packs made a difference

5 Smokers are in good company

This Camels ad from a Fortune Magazine in 1930 mirrors the Art Deco imagery of JC Leyendecker and tells us that “the road to pleasure is thronged with smokers.” Amazingly, smoking was only banned on US domestic flights in 1990 after years of campaigning from the Association of Flight Attendants. However, it took another 10 years before smoking was banned on flights between the United States and foreign destinations.

“Road to pleasure is thronged with smokers”

6 Athletes smoke – they must be good

Health and celebrity combined – smokers can’t lose. This vintage Chesterfields ad from 1947 shows tennis player Bobby Riggs, football star Sid Luckman, golfer Lloyd Mangrum, baseball slugger Ted Williams, basketball star Nat Holman and swimmer Adolph Keifer – the crème de la crème of American sports. Imagine any sports star from today being prepared to be photographed with a cigarette hanging out their mouth like Riggs in 1947?

Some of America’s top sportsmen endorsing Chesterfields

7 Cigarettes are worldly

Well, Turkish ones are. That the message that Murad used in their advertising in the 1920s. No health message, no technical jargon – just be an international man of leisure without ever leaving home by smoking their brand. The highly stylized imagery shows little expense was sparred in the development of this 1921 advert.

Murad promised worldly pleasures without the travel

8 There’s research too

This plain and simple 1943 magazine advert from Old Gold openly talks about nicotine and “throat-irritating tars and resins” but also mentions that research shows the superiority of their cigarettes. As is typical with any research referenced in advertising, there is little detail supplied to the reader.

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