Cigarette Advertising

The recently passed Tobacco Regulation Bill represents the latest crackdown on how companies can sell cigarettes. As 20,679 1930s doctors can tell you, it used to be a whole different ball game

  • Share
  • Read Later
Claudia Rehm / Westend61 / Corbis

For practically as long as the U.S. has existed, Americans have been selling tobacco. But a pack of new industry regulations passed by Congress could put a drag on cigarette promotion, a $13 billion-a-year business. The sweeping bill would, among other things, regulate the location of advertisements, restrict some ads to black-and-white and ban labels such as MILD and LOW TAR.

The first print ad for tobacco is believed to date from 1789, when what is now the Lorillard Tobacco Co. advertised its snuff in a New York City newspaper. In the late 19th century, cigarette packs began to include trading cards featuring celebrities and athletes. Soldiers in World Wars I and II received free or subsidized cigarettes, ensuring a market of millions after the GIs returned home. In the 1940s and '50s, manufacturers penned catchy slogans ("Winston tastes good like a cigarette should") and backed popular television shows: NBC's pioneering Camel News Caravan later evolved into the network's flagship Nightly News. Pitchmen included doctors, dentists and sports stars like Mickey Mantle.

The golden age of tobacco advertising began to dim in the 1960s, as smoking's health risks became clear. Warning labels were ordered on cigarette packs, and television and radio cigarette ads were banned in 1971. Undeterred, tobacco companies continued their campaigns with print and billboard ads, sports sponsorships and merchandise promotions like Camel Cash.

Most tobacco companies opposed the new bill, which would let the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco for the first time. Sadly for them, the measure has the support of one influential nicotine addict who has vowed to quit: President Obama.