HOLY SMOKES! Vintage Cigarette Ads

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Ladies, gentlemen, non-binaries, and everyone in-between, we live in an age of modern sensibilities. And yet, the vape industry has plenty of trouble with their image recently. A while back, a big batch of unregulated vape cartridges made by black market dealers caused a handful of tragic deaths. The tobacco lobby used this as a catalyst to try and shut down vaping as much as possible, which has been a thorn in their side for years. Between the tobacco lobby, news reports based on bad sources, and a rise in public outrage, suddenly, all of vaping was to blame, as far as the Court Of Public Opinion was concerned.

Now, vaping has been tainted with an undeserved label as a child-killing monstrosity; instead of blaming the unregulated, tainted cartridges from a disreputable black market dealer. 

It's odd nowadays to see people foaming at the mouth, trying to claim that "vaping kills," and "flavored vape appeals to children," while the tobacco lobby joins the fray and fights so hard to have vaping banned. (Except for the tobacco-related vape stuff; that's still fine, right? Not at all suspicious, guys.)

I say that it's odd, because as late as the 1970's, cigarette companies could get away with murder as far as their advertising was concerned. The vape industry has had some pretty bad press over the past couple of years, but it pales in comparison to the press that was allowed for the tobacco industry. Fortunately, times have changed, and these sorts of things aren't allowed anymore, but for a while, they went completely unchallenged as they tried to pass off some crazy ideas to encourage people to smoke. It was downright RIDICULOUS. Here's just a few fine examples:



Wait... why is flavored SMOKING okay, but flavored vaping is EVIL? Stupid tobacco lobby...


Now, I don't know about you, but there is NOBODY I'm aware of who gets turned on and/or sexually hypnotized by having disgusting cigarette smoke blown in their face. "A puff in her direction, and she'll follow you, anywhere." Yeah, right. More like she'll start hacking and coughing, while wondering why some random asshole blew smoke in her face. (And when she finds out why, she can feel doubly insulted.)

Back before "sexism" was a widely-used term, you could pop into your office, fire down a highball, and slap your secretary on the ass with little repercussion beyond your secretary rolling her eyes when she wasn't facing you. Women were objectified left and right, and nobody really said much against it; those who did were ignored frequently. So, it was no surprise to anyone to see ads like these in their local paper or magazine.

Here's another classy winner:

...Wow. That's really the only word for this one. Wow.


Get a clue, fatty—nobody likes fat chicks. You have to be thin to be worthy of a man's love. Plus, it helps if you're completely loaded, too. Skinny is fine, but skinny and poor is just about as unforgiveable as being a Fatty McFat-Fat.

This ad is horrible. You couldn't sell anything nowadays with a slogan like that. And look at that picture! That is the douche-baggiest of douche bags right there, with his ascot, aviator glasses, and smoking jacket. (See what they did there?)

It also seems to be using "negging" as a way to seduce women. For those of you who don't know what that is, "negging," is a form of emotional manipulation where someone says a deliberate backhanded compliment, to undermine their target's confidence, and increase their need of the manipulator's approval.

This is just the tip of the eye-popping, sexist iceberg. But hey, where sexism fails, body shaming is sure to work, right? Absolutely. It actually bridges right into another similar tactic from the next series of ads, which are very subtle.




That double-chin looms right around the corner, Becky. Better watch out!


You know what they say; tell a girl she's pretty and she won't think twice about it. Tell her that she's fat, and she'll remember that one comment forever.

...Because an elephant never forgets. ZING!

All kidding aside, these ads are basically claiming that cigarette addiction is far better for you than snacking, and will keep you thin, trim, and beautiful without all that bothersome exercise and self-control bullshit. In a surprising twist, this method wasn't aimed solely at insecure women:


Honestly, I want to see the fat guy try to make that hurdle.
The ad should be about THAT.


Remember, if you don't smoke cigarettes, you will be a hideous, disgusting blob; like some kind of bloated, eldritch abomination, you hideous freak. The next time you feel the temptation to indulge in something, you should probably make sure that "something" is a Lucky Strike cigarette, instead of a delicious snack, fat kid. Also, Lucky Strike really wanted you to believe that their "toasted" tobacco was safe for your throat. Because smoking and throat cancer are not linked in any way.

But, that segues quite nicely into the next tactic old cigarette ads loved to use; arguing their healthful benefits.



All the cures for everything ever, for only a quarter!


Ah, "Marshall's Prepared Cubeb Cigarettes." The greatest of ALL known specifics! (Was it ever in question, really?) All the leading "druggists and general dealers" THROUGHOUT THE WORLD will tell you that these bad boys are a wonderous instant fix for:

  • Catarrh (I had to look that one up. Basically, it's excessive mucous.)
  • Asthma (Because smoking helps you breathe, naturally.)
  • Hay-Fever
  • Cold In The Head
  • All Diseases Of The Throat (As cigarettes are well-known for curing.)
  • Foul Breath (Another obvious solution.)
  • Etc., Etc. (At this point, I think they just wanted to say, "WHATEVER! THEY'RE GOOD FOR YOU! HOW MANY CURES DO YOU NEED, JEEZ?!")

Yeah, it's not surprising that, back in the day, cigarette companies would straight-up LIE to sell cigarettes; and at the time, people were ignorant enough about their inherent dangers to believe that cigarettes were practically vitamins:


First off, that kid is dressed like an aunt, and second, WHY is a child being
prescribed cigarettes anyway? Does she have Catarrh, or something?


Their attempts to tie smoking in with good health was the catalyst for a long-running Camel sales platform: "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!" This ad slogan dates back to old-time radio days, where you could tune in to hear programs like Camel Caravan—a musical variety show promoted by Camel Cigarettes—and hear ads all about the fantastic health benefits provided by Camel cigarettes. The text at the top of the ad above praises the advancement of medical science extending people's lives by ten years over the previous generation. (Which is, coincidentally, the same number of years smoking takes off of your life, so it's a wash, right? Everyone wins.) Did you notice the little girl in the ad above? That leads to something else about vintage cigarette ads:


And here's where the old hypocrisy comes into play. Folks who think flavored vape is targeting children would be shocked to see that one of the trends they had in old commercials was including children and even babies in them, trying to get smokers as young as possible. Eventually, icons like Joe Camel were retired, but before the trend stopped, you got ads like these:

"Over-Smoked" sounds like the title of a lesser-known
Cheech and Chong movie.


Ads were either aimed at children, or featured them flagrantly. In many instances, cigarettes were treated like an integral part of the nuclear family; as American as apple pie, the family dog, kids playing out in the yard in summertime, and mommy's delicious Marlboro's.

 Ah, yes. Unfiltered cigarettes. KNOWN for being gentle, and less harsh. Wait, what?


And you know what? Because of the popularity of America's greatest addiction, it practically was a family staple at the time. Nobody knew much about the dangers and addictions of smoking, (except the companies that totally did, and kept that information from the public.) So, everyone and their mothers were smoking away, and kids saw this as a totally normal thing for adults to do; and that by emulating them, they too could be "grown up."

You know who else people loved to emulate? Celebrities.



Lucy, you got some smokin' to do.


While it may not be quite as influential as it was back during the heyday of cigarette commercials, it can't be argued that celebrities absolutely do have an influence over how people shop, dress, and behave. (Remember the "Rachel" haircut from the 90's? It was everywhere.)

A quick Google image search of "celebrity cigarette ads" will pull up a barrage of images featuring famous faces of their day. Lucille Ball did quite a few, both with and without her husband, Desi Arnaz.

...The fact that Desi died of lung cancer in 1986 is probably just an awkward coincidence, right?


Ads for cigarettes were everywhere. Billboards, buses, radio programs, and even on television. If you had a favorite character in a movie, chances are good they were sticking a cigarette in their mouth, and blowing a sexy plume of smoke right in some unsuspecting woman's face to seduce them. Here's a double-whammy of an ad featuring famous TV host Ed Sullivan, and an attempt at scientifically "proving" that cigarettes are great:

Sorry, host of a 'really big sheoowww,' but I'll have to give this one a really big neoowww.


The attempts to tie celebrities to the everyman through smoking were so blatant, that some ads featured both celebrities and "normal people" in them, like this one with well-known mentally stable celebrity, Joan Crawford, and L.E. Thomason, a tobacco farmer in Paris, Kentucky:

..."Mommy Dearest" AND someone with a vested interest in tobacco proliferation? Sure, those both seem like pretty reliable sources.


This culminates in what, by my opinion, is probably the worst/best example of celebrities in cigarette ads: The Flintstones. Yeah, even Bedrock's first family got in on the cigarette hocking action. Their show aired in prime time, and was one of the first cartoons aimed at the demographic for a more mature time slot. So while it's surreal to see Fred Flintstone lighting up a Winston, it was actually fairly regular. (Along with their ads for Busch Beer, which was absolutely a real  thing.)

Yabba-Dabba Drunk!


Winston ads featured Fred frequently singing praises of Winston Cigarettes, and then literally singing their jingle of "Winston tastes good, like a... cigarette shoooould!" Then, he and whichever character was closest to him would light up their cigarettes, right there, in full animation, right in front of the families (and children) of the world.

...I'm honestly surprised that none of these involved a lighter made out of an imprisoned bird with a mouth full of matches, or something.


...Yeah. The tobacco industry hasn't been targeting children at all.

So, there you have it, gang. The next time you want to grab your pitchforks and scream, "Vaping is targeting children!" just remember that adults like flavored vapes; (which is who they're made for, not kids,) and unlike cigarettes, vaping companies in the US succeeded without having to include (as far as I'm aware,) deliberate sexism, blatant misinformation, or children in their advertisements. They don't even have the option to put their ads on TV in the middle of some kid's primetime animated sitcom. 

Sensibilities have thankfully changed over the decades, which is a very good thing. And yes, people can change their opinions over the years. (Which is why doing things like holding people accountable for decade-old Tweets implies that people can't grow or change.)

But the tobacco industry doesn't change. It doesn't learn from its old mistakes; it flat-out has to be ordered to stop doing certain things like these ads before they will stop. Tobacco (and getting people hooked on tobacco) is their primary lifeline. They profit off your addictions and suffering. So, never forget the days when Big Tobacco got to dig their claws into their addicted customers as early and often as possible. Once the world was hooked, they were damn near unshakeable in their hold on the people. But then, vaping came along to threaten their empire, and now the vaping industry has been targeted as the new bad guy.

Folks, vaping has helped a lot of people quit smoking, and they even provide options that have zero nicotine in them. But, when faced with an industry whose product can help (and has helped) people stop using another industry's product, a lot of attempts by one to discredit the other are bound to happen.

So keep in mind who is telling you what these days, and how they can profit from it—even when that someone is me. (Heck, I just got paid to write this opinion piece, so you know there was something in it for me. The difference is, at least I'm honest about it, and I've got no interest in talking to kids.)

Until next time, vapers!

1 comment

  • Posted on by Becky Derlinga

    Great article… loved to read the throwbacks. Old advertising is is rife with the most base level insecurities we have as humans. And then bam buy Marlboro, or cocaine laced cola, and all of your problems are solved.

    When the black market vapes hit, I remember reporting that claimed almost all of those affected admitted to smoking black market weed vapes. It was so many that one could easily conclude a couple people may not be telling the whole truth. That info was promptly brushed to the side, and it became about flavored vapes. I specifically remember them saying that cotton candy flavor is not meant for adults but children. Funny, I will only vape cotton candy and it’s clear I am not a child. It was maddening to watch disinformation happen in real time. Even more so to see legions of people rally behind such unfounded claims. For weeks, at work, I was (daily) told I should quit vaping. I tried quitting smoking for years, every way a person could try, nothing worked. When vaping hit the states, I was on it. Earlier devices were trash, but as they got better so did the effectiveness of satisfying this insane habit. I am fairly close to quitting vaping to, my mic level is almost non existent. Though I still intend to have 0 mic on standby, so I never reach for a cigarette again.

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