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Tobacco Stories: Tobacco in War

As it happens, tobacco was a soldier’s best friend. And in all wars. I don’t know about now, but up until the 1980s, tobacco was considered a strategic raw material. That partnership is what this article will be about. Today I will look at the example of World War I as a key event in the history of tobacco.

Many military leaders of that war noted the great importance of tobacco in the troops, and there was a catastrophic shortage from the very first days. But not all did. The famous “black hussars” of the 2nd Life Hussar Regiment of Queen Victoria of Prussia went into battle with cigars in their teeth. But French generals attributed their defeat in the Border Battle of 1914 to “inadequate living conditions of the troops and lack of tobacco,” which allegedly contributed to the decadent mood.

American troops, having interrupted their neutral stance on the conflict and entered the war in 1917, seemed to be more prepared, but not everything went smoothly in their troops with tobacco supplies either. At least the demand of John Pershing, commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in France, was unequivocal – tobacco at the front was as important as food or ammunition.

The issue was not only procurement, very large, for the needs of the army, but also the problems of delivering tobacco to the front. Even very unusual solutions were found. For example, during a position confrontation in the vicinity of Saint-Michel, France, the pilots of No. 27 Squadron were engaged in tobacco delivery. Packs of tobacco and cigarettes were simply scattered over Allied positions and to this day it is considered the most unusual use of fighter aviation.

The U.S. government responded to the inadequate supply of tobacco to the front lines in a predictable way by involving the civilian population. Along with the war loans came many tobacco loans, various funds were organized to raise funds for the purchase of tobacco “provisions” as well as the finished product. Another historical fact – since 1917, even American prisoners contributed by allegedly voluntarily giving up tobacco rations in favor of supplies to the front.

Civil funds were also encouraged by the tobacco companies and, as modern historians say, World War I was the most successful marketing campaign for the tobacco moguls, free of charge for the most part. Here both the action supported by the government and people on huge increase in the future audience and free advertising of production, and the market has been considerably released from competitors. Not all manufacturers were able to cope with the growing demands for increased supply.

Remember the famous World War II ad, “Lucky Strike Goes to War”? When the packs of these cigarettes changed their livery from the usual green to white, ostensibly to save crumbs of strategic metal. In fact, it was first launched by another tobacco company and in a slightly different vein. “Bull Durcham, a mass-produced tobacco brand produced by American Tobacco, “went to war” even earlier.

Despite the fact that the factory’s tobacco and cigarette production lines did not stop 24 hours a day and 100 freight cars with 26 million packets of “Bull Durcham” were sent to the front each month, this was not enough in the opinion of the government. In April 1918 the representatives of the government simply requisitioned all the finished product from the factory. And even all that the factory had to produce for the following year! Over the objections of the owners that there was not enough tobacco for the citizens, the Bull Durcham was not even allowed to be advertised, so as not to cause unnecessary unrest.

That’s when the “Bull Durcham went to war!” advertising campaign was invented. Instead of the usual advertisements in many newspapers and magazines, American Tobacco placed detailed reports on what and how much it was sending to the front.

And it was the voluntary forced supply of tobacco and cigarettes that brought such brands as Camel or Lucky Strike to the postwar top. To be fair, even before the war Camel had about 30% of the total cigarette market in the U.S., but after the war their share increased significantly. But the once popular Fatima cigarettes, on the contrary, have strongly declined thanks to the war, making way for competitors. It was all about the tobacco sack dominated by Turkish tobacco, the supply of which had practically stopped during the war.

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