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The history of cigarettes: New Horizons

The transition to cigarette smoking at the beginning of the twentieth century from traditional cigars and pipes was rather slow. A catalyst of sorts was World War I, where soldiers were supplied with cigarettes by various government organizations and commercial foundations. But it was not the ex-soldiers who gave cigarettes a really wide market, although there was indeed a whole army of them.

One of the most defining changes in social mores was the move toward acceptance of cigarette smoking by women. All three major tobacco companies were well aware of the changes in the marketplace during and immediately after World War I. Marketers were keeping an eye on demographic statistics, and salesmen were paying attention to the cult of youth that was forming after the war. Everyone was deeply interested in the female smoker, the largest untapped market in the country. Earlier advertisements hinted at this theme, but usually in an indirect way, as cigarette advertisements depicted female models with a pack of cigarettes, but none actually showed a female smoker.

But times were changing, and people like George Washington Hill of American Tobacco were aiming to popularize smoking among the female population. Some of Hill’s most famous advertising campaigns for Lucky Strike evolved through the work of one of his most famous advertisers, Edward Bernays. It was Bernays who hired a psychoanalyst to support his theory that some women saw cigarettes as symbols of freedom, and then hired attractive models to smoke Lucky Strike in public.

Another ingenious advertising campaign was born when Washington Hill expressed doubts about the appeal to women of the green color of the Lucky Strike tutu. As a result, instead of looking for new colors for the brand, Bernays ran a brilliant and unusual ad campaign – he made green the most fashionable color among Americans! Working with friends in the fashion industry, Bernays paid for events like Onandag Silk’s Green Fashion Luncheon, which featured only green menus: asparagus salad, pistachio mousse and crème de menthe. There was also a “Green Charity Ball,” sponsored by prominent socialite Mrs. Frank Vanderlip and paid for by American Tobacco. Not surprisingly, “green” was the most popular color that year. Hill was pleased, and Bernie was promoted.

Another of Hill’s advertising agents named Albert Lasker helped him develop perhaps his most famous campaign in the 1920s. Lasker’s wife once told him that her doctor had suggested that she smoke before eating to suppress her appetite. The ad man pitched the idea to Hill, and the famous “Lucky Instead of Sweet” campaign was launched. The ads were so successful (and controversial) that they spawned several other memorable campaigns designed around the theme of keeping you beautiful and attractive by smoking.

About that time, by the early 1930s, all the tobacco companies had their most coveted market: the liberated woman!