Up In Smoke: History of Cigarette Marketing In the United States


Modern restrictions on tobacco marketing have prohibited many types of cigarette advertising, including restrictions of television commercials and billboards. Before the adverse health effects of cigarettes were known, however, tobacco marketing was widespread. Tobacco companies were constantly innovating new ideas for how to get their products into the hands of new customers.

The First Cigarette Ads

Lucky Strike Cigarette AdIn the early days of tobacco advertising, cigarette companies used a variety of targeted advertisements to attract and retain new customers. The earliest advertisements were run in newspapers. The first known cigarette ad, for the Lorillard Tobacco Company, appeared in 1789. With the rise of color printing during the 1800’s, tobacco companies began using colored cigarette cards as a method of branding their product. Similar colored ads would run in the magazines of the era, creating brand awareness across the United States.

The World Wars

During the two World Wars, tobacco companies began sending free cigarettes to the soldiers deployed throughout Europe. Cigarettes were even a part the soldiers’ rations. This new kind of marketing allowed tobacco companies to be supportive of the United States war effort, and it also helped to secure a whole new generation of loyal customers. Upon returning home, the veterans would continue to buy their favorite brands, and soon cigarette had becoming more profitable than ever.

The Age of Television

As television ownership increased throughout the 50’s and 60’s, tobacco companies were quick to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of this new medium. Celebrities became paid spokesmen for cigarette brands, and tobacco companies even sponsored popular TV shows of the day. Commercials featured slogans and jingles that were meant to stick with the viewer, and many of the advertisements ran during shows popular with children. As the health effects of cigarettes became known, tobacco companies released newer, supposedly safer products like filtered cigarettes. They also began running advertisements implying that their products were safer than the competition. Despite these efforts, the harmful effects of smoking were quickly becoming known throughout the United States.

Tobacco Marketing Restrictions

In 1964, the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health published a report about the adverse effects of smoking. Compiled from the best research available, the report caused increased scrutiny on tobacco marketing, and soon there were calls for advertising restrictions. In 1970, the first official ban on televised cigarette ads was signed into law by President Nixon. Restrictions on tobacco marketing continued to increase, including new prohibitions introduced as recently as 2009.

Cigarette Advertising Today

Today, tobacco marketing remains heavily restricted in the United States. Cigarette ads have been prohibited on television, radio, and billboards. Cigarette ads are highly regulated, with colorful advertising thought to be aimed at children banned altogether. Even the wording of cigarette advertisements is restricted, and tobacco companies must gain FDA approval to use words, such as “mild” or “light”, which might imply that the cigarette is healthier than competing products. As more information is discovered about the adverse effects of smoking, restrictions on both tobacco companies and tobacco users will continue to increase through the United States.

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  • Ali Esmaili
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