Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cigarettes for Soldiers:
How the Tobacco and Advertising Industries Seized an Opportunity

Contributed by Tony Langley

If ever there was proof that war is a filthy business, then the Great War proved it by virtually creating the vast modern market for cigarettes. Prior to the Great War cigarette smoking – as opposed to manly cigars and the traditional pipe – was considered, somewhat contradictorally, to be a bit on the effeminate side for real men and generally too inappropriate an activity for ladies..

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In the USA, cigarettes were not looked upon with much sympathy by various state legislators, in some cases there were even outright bans. But the war changed all of this almost overnight. Cigarettes proved to be just the thing to keep soldiers occupied during the long stretches of relative quiet and boredom at the front. They created a sense of camaraderie when shared out among mates, and by an odd quirk of reasoning, they were also thought to help keep the men away from hard liquor and loose ladies. General Pershing was quoted as saying that for the troops cigarettes were more important than bullets. Even associations like the YMCA and the Red Cross, which prior to war had been opposed in principle to smoking, ended up collecting vast quantities of cigarettes for the boys "Over There."


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Naturally, all nationalities provided smokes for their troops, daily rations of tobacco being generous in most cases. While U.S. and British producers were the leaders in cigarette production, German firms often stressed the Turkish element in tobacco, as a sort of aside to their war-time ally. One German brand was called "Salem Aleikum," a proper Oriental form of greeting ("Peace Be Unto You"), which, all things considered, was somewhat ironic during wartime. But when was the advertising industry anything other than naively single-minded and apt to ignore the realities of the real world?
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Most tobacco firms needed little advertising to keep sales at record highs during the war. Bull Durham in the U.S., for instance, sold the whole of its cigarette production to the War Department in 1918. Families were encouraged to send extra smokes to the troops, and here homefront advertising came into play. Soldiers rarely needed any advertising, but civilians could be enticed by the appropriate style of cigarette ads to choose a brand that fit their view of relatives in the service. Officers were thought to prefer a different brand than "other ranks" and this was reflected in British tobacco advertising.

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After the war, the habit of cigarette smoking among all layers of society persisted, quietly but relentlessly, taking a toll of premature death among the men who learned to smoke in the trenches. The smoking habit would be further reinforced by the experiences of yet another world war a generation later.


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(This one is my favorite, Tony. Apparently some advertisers had not discovered irony yet. MH)


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A late addition from regular Roads contributor Stephen Harris, showing American National Guard Officers deployed along the U.S.-Mexican border in 1916.



6 comments:

  1. It was actually the returning soldiers from the Crimean War (1854-1856) who first popularized smoking in the UK.
    Many of the British cigarette manufacturers and the American companies under the monopolistic ownership of Duke were already well established by the time of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
    In the first couple of years of the 20th century there was a "Tobacco War" between the American companies (Duke primarily) & the British companies to gain ownership of various companies in the US, the UK & elsewhere in the world. this led to the conglomerates of the American Tobacco Co., the British American Company and the International Tobacco Co., apart from the local tobacco firms.

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  2. "If the Camels don't get you, the Fatimas will."

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  3. "I'd walk a mile for a Camel." . . .

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  4. . . . "But not even a couple of yards for a Kent."

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