Women and cigarettes


Women and Cigarettes
Several features of the cigarette helped make it a
particularly suitable product for, and symbol of, the
liberation of women, who came to smoking in growing numbers beginning in the 1920s. Just as the cigarette “fairly leaped” into its rightful position as “the
smoke of manly men” with the aid of stories and pictures from the World War I front ([New York] Tobacco
Leaf 1914, p. 6, quoted in Young 1916, p. 228), so for
young women after the war smoking was “perhaps
the one most potent symbol” of the new sense of freedom and equality (Fass 1977, p. 292). For the growing
number of women who attended college in the 1920s,
smoking was “a welcome form of notoriety” (p. 293).
Objections to women’s smoking betrayed a traditional
double standard, for such opposition arose from the
twin cultural perceptions that cigarettes were not moral
and were not feminine. Smoking “implied a promiscuous equality between men and women and was
an indication that women could enjoy the same vulgar habits and ultimately also the same vices as men”

 (p. 294). But while they were tokens of equality with
men, cigarettes were also amorphic, making men appear more manly and women more womanly (Tate
Aware of (and perhaps sharing) these objections,
cigarette manufacturers were initially cautious about
targeting this potential new market. As late as 1924,
the editor of a tobacco trade journal wrote that “all
responsible tobacco opinion [found the idea of women
smoking so] novel ... that it would not be in good taste
for tobacco men as parties in interest to stir a particle
toward or against a condition with whose beginnings
they had nothing to do and whose end, if any, no one
can foresee” (Wessel 1924, p. 6). Even advertisements
with women in mind did not dare picture them actually smoking.
36 Chapter 2

Reducing Tobacco Use
This initial caution was dictated by canny attention to the political environment. Cigarette manufacturers feared a backlash in legislation or public
opinion if they too aggressively sought female
consumers (Tennant 1950). In light of anticigarette legislation arising during the 1920s, and particularly in
light of the ongoing experiment in alcohol prohibition, 

this anxiety was reasonable.
The cigarette industry’s caution was short-lived.
As the 1920s advanced, appeals to women through
tobacco marketing were increasingly direct. In 1926,
the Chesterfield brand ran a then-controversial
advertisement wherein a woman urged a male companion to “Blow Some My Way” (Ernster 1985, p. 336).
In 1927, Lucky Strike advertisements showed a famous
female opera star recommending Luckies as soothing
to the throat and a famous actress assuring readers that
Luckies did not irritate the throat (Schudson 1984).
And in 1928, Luckies were advertised with the dietconscious slogan, “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a
Sweet” (Ernster 1985, p. 336).

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