Claims That Went Up In Smoke: A Look at Vintage Cigarette Advertising, Part 1

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Today is the annual Great American Smokeout day in the U.S., and I can't think of a better way to recognize the event by celebrating some of the bad, weird, and delusional cigarette advertising that was so prevalent in the first half of the 20th century. To catalog every single cigarette ad would use up my blog's bandwith, so for today's post I'm just going to focus on the use of doctors, babies, and Santa Claus in cigarette ads. To understand how the use of such unusual spokesfigures came to be, what follows is just a brief history of cigarette advertising.

The origins of tobacco advertising can be traced to a snuff advertisement in 1789 in a New York newspaper. The late 1800s saw the invention of the cigarette dispensing machine and greater transportation methods of distributing tobacco products across the country. But some might say that nicotine addiction didn't really take off until World War 2, when U.S. soldiers were issued free cigarettes by tobacco companies. When they returned home, what better way to feed their habit than with advertising? Slogans such as "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" started to catch on, as well as endorsements from doctors, dentists, and celebrities.

Camel's famous campaign, "More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette", was launched in 1946 and lasted for eight years. Now really, who would doubt the advice of any of these kindly looking family physicians?

Your dentist wants you to smoke as well, but why? Do Viceroys help prevent cavities?

This one is interesting because of the female doctor image, and the copy implies that Camel had started to survey male and female medical professionals on their choice of cigarette.

Look carefully at the last guy in the top of row in the bottom right-hand corner of this particular ad - that's Mike Douglas, who went on to host his own TV talk show.

Not to be left out, Lucky Strikes got in on the act as well. They claimed their cigarette was also less irritating to throats.

The original mad men behind these ads weren't exactly lying, by the way. Many doctors really did smoke cigarettes. It wasn't until 1964 that the U.S. Surgeon General, Luther Terry, released the Advisory Committee Report on Smoking and Health that showed a connection between smoking and lung cancer and other diseases. However, in the decades to come, smoking would still be portrayed as glamorous and endorsed by celebrities - many of whom died from diseases caused by the habit.

Here's a baby ad for Marlboro, marketed towards moms. Was it supposed to make mommy feel guilty if she didn't smoke Marlboros?

Not to be outdone, and just in time for the holidays, Santa got into the act as well. He was quite fond of Pall Malls and Chesterfields:

There's way more where these came from. Check out Stanford University's online exhibit of cigarette ads for more examples.

Coming soon in part two: the promotion of cigarettes for enhanced althetic ability! And, need I say it, but if you are a smoker please consider kicking the habit, starting today.


  1. thanks for sharing your thoughts and images.... do you know where i can by these images???



  2. Hi Barry,

    There's a few sites that sell vintage ads. Try or There's also

    The ones in my blog post I just grabbed from Google images. Hope that helps.


Powered by Blogger.