Friday, April 13, 2012

The Essential Accessory, Pt. 2

Chapter 62
This week, we're continuing our look at the history of tobacco use. The best-dressed people of the past hundred years were smokers, and I shall not rest until we find if there is a correlation! 

Because snuff is for sissies and French aristocrats.
We'll take up from where we left off last time -- the dawn of the nineteenth century. Political revolutions had arisen in America and France, and shortly thereafter Beau Brummell and the Dandies had begun a revolution in men's fashion. Tobacco was undergoing a revolution as well, for smoking cigars and pipes had once again overtaken snuff as the nicotine delivery method of choice.

Quoth the gentleman in the center with flaming whiskers:
"Fire Fire Oh dear my best Mustacios will be quite
destroy'd!"
Also notable in that in 1824, smoking
was nicknamed "steaming" and smokers were "steamers."
Cigars became all the rage in England. The 26 pounds of cigars imported in 1826 explode into a quarter-million pounds a year by 1830. Chemist John Walker contributes a nifty phosphorus-and-wood invention in 1827: the Congreve. the lucifer. the match. Whatever the name, better living through chemistry meant instant fire was now available upon demand. Meanwhile, in formerly cigar-centric Spain, the cigarette catches fire in the mainstream, the rolled paper version we recognize today having been perfected by Turkish and Egyptian artillerymen. And in America, chewing tobacco holds sway over pipes and cigars.

The American temperance movement of the 1830s builds momentum against tobacco, due in no small part to the near universal disregard for spittoons, as much as by the medical research of the day. The Annual Report of the New York Anti-Tobacco Society for 1855 calls tobacco a "fashionable poison," warns against addiction and claims half of all deaths of smokers between 35 and 50 were caused by smoking. 

In America, smoking cigars ("stogies," named for the Conestoga wagons in which they were shipped West,) was dwarfed by the habit of chewing tobacco leaves. In antebellum Virginia and North Carolina, there were nearly 350 tobacco factories, all of which produced chewing tobacco; only 6 produced smoking tobacco, and then only as a side-product. 

British soldiers in the Crimean War in 1853 discovered the Turkish cigarettes, and brought the practice back to Old Blighty. Londoner Philip Morris (yes, that one,) began making them locally in 1854.

After the Civil War, (during which tobacco was issued as rations, and after which was paid by federal tobacco taxes,) the science and innovation of the Industrial Revolution was beginning to be put to bear on the industry. Development of southern "bright" and Ohio "white burley" varieties made for a lighter tasting and sweeter leaf. Most of the American consumption was still as chew, and in fact in 1880 only 8 cigarettes were smoked per capita.

Bonsack's Infernal Contraption.

Then a 21-year-old Virginian named James Albert Bonsack invented and got a patent for an automatic cigarette-rolling machine, and within five years everything changed forever.

Blue Devil.


In 1881, "Buck" Duke's cigarette factory in Durham, NC produced 9.8 million cigarettes: 1.5% of the total market. In 1884, Buck relocated to New York City, bought two Bonsack machines, and cranked out 744 million cigarettes, more than every other company combined over the previous year. His exclusive contract with Bonsack enabled him to slash prices and undersell his competition. The end of the 1862 Civil War excise tax on cigars had cracked the smoking market again in America, more men were smoking, and Duke could see the writing on the wall.

In 1889 Buck Duke consolidated the five leading cigarette companies as the American Tobacco Company, with himself as the president. (His megacompany was short-lived, though: it was dissolved by anti-trust legislation in 1911.) Duke found himself faced with a saturated market of cigarettes when most people chewed -- and at the time, cigarettes were generally seen as the least healthful and manly way to smoke. So he did what any tycoon would do with a useless and unwanted product: he created his own market, with vast advertising campaigns. 

The tobacco industry invented many advertising techniques that we take for granted today, like billboard ads, household items with logos, lithographed posters with provocative ladies, perception saturation, and collectible cards. In a brilliant move that simply utilized a cardboard insert used as a box stiffener, there were baseball cards, of course, but also automobiles, famous actors, flags of the world, pinups (of course!) and many more. Human nature being what it is, then as now, people are compelled to collect complete sets of series of things.

Interesting to note: in 1889 there were only 140 documented cases of lung cancer worldwide.

By 1890, the US per capita cigarette smoking rate quadrupled, to 35 cigarettes a year, up from 8 in 1880. More shockingly, chewing tobacco consumption in 1890? Three pounds per person. 

Anti-cigarette movements abound by the new century, with strong restrictions on cigarette sales or consumption in 43 of the 45 states. This drives many small companies out of business, but 4.4 billion ciggys are still sold in 1900...and Buck Duke sold 90% of them. And that doesn't even take into consideration the 300,000 cigar brands that were already on the market.

The death of anti-tobacco Queen Victoria and the succession of her son, smoker Edward VII did much to bolster the image of smoking in the Empire and worldwide. 3.5 billion cigarettes and 6 billion cigars are sold in America in 1901; and cigar smoking spikes -- 4 in 5 men smoke at least one per day.

By 1910, the US per capita smoking rate had risen to 151 cigarettes a year. 

In 1911, the 250-year ban on tobacco-growing in England is repealed.

Doesn't get plainer than that.
Through the 1910's, many of the states' earlier tobacco laws were lifted, and smoking skyrocketed. In 1917, the Automated Short Filler Cigar Machine is patented, making cheap, mass-produced stogies readily available. When the US entered WWI, and the War Department bought the entire output of Bull Durham tobacco for war rations. General Pershing thought "tobacco as much as bullets" was needed to win the war. Since Turkish leaf was unavailable, American tobacco did very well.

Prohibition in 1919 was seen by many as the first step to banning tobacco in America as well as alcohol; but in 1920 the US per capita smoking rate was up to 477 cigarettes a year. Nevertheless, state tobacco taxation began in 1921, and 15 states had again banned the sale, manufacture, possession, advertising and/or use of cigarettes. In 1922, cigarettes surpass chewing tobacco pound-for-pound for the first time in the US.

By 1930, per capita consumption was up to 977. As the Depression wore on, most hand-rolled cigar companies folded, in favor of the cheaper mass-produced stogies, and "cigarette price wars" started to keep the down-and-out supplied in discount dime-a-pack brands. On the other end of the scale, Benson & Hedges offered the first cigarette with a filter tip, mouthpiece, and hard box.

Tobacco advertising had always played a large part in the industry, back to the days when Buck Duke had produced so many cigarettes a year he had to invent the market for them -- but the new media of Radio, and later, Television, was a particularly unique market suited for mass persuasion. Our favorite movie and radio stars sold their "favorite" brands, and dulcet-toned "doctors" espoused the benefits of smoking. The lines between commercial and program were very blurry then, and a perhaps-too-gullible public bought wholesale into the hype with unprecedented abandon.

Burgess Meredith's understudy.
That complete media saturation, Prohibition, and the Depression, had conflated into a "perfect storm" for smokers: in 1940 consumption per capita was up to 2,558, two and a half times that of 1930. As part of the War effort, Roosevelt made tobacco a protected crop. 

You don't hate America...do you?


Cigarettes were included in C-rations, and tobacco companies sent millions of free cigs to GIs -- consumption was so fierce, a shortage developed for the first time. By the end of the War, sales were at an all-time high, and climbing.



1950's consumption was 3650 per capita, despite the long-term correlation between smoking and lung cancer, which could now be studied in a large and impossible-to-ignore part of the population. 

(They probably started in the War.)




No amount of legitimate medical evidence could compete with the juggernaut of television and print ads, though, and the cigarette companies pushed back against legislation and lawsuits with fervor. 

Dr. Leo Spaceman: he's also a pretty good dentist.


A series of wrongful-death lawsuits in the mid-'50s, and 1955's "See It Now" on CBS linked smoking with cancer for the first time on TV, which led to FTC regulation prohibiting health references in all cigarette advertising; including references to the "throat, larynx, lungs, nose, or other parts of the body" or to "digestion, energy, nerves, or doctors." This was no small thing: a large chunk of ads featured some sort of "medical endorsement."

Yabba-dabba-bang-zoom.
In 1957, a major step across the pond was made when the UK's Medical Research Council accepted the link between smoking and lung cancer -- something on which the FDA was still dragging its heels. Indeed, American advertising was steamrolling right along, medical endorsements or not.

Cowboys really smoked cheroots.
By 1960 consumption in America ballooned ever higher, to 4380 sticks per person per year. Liability suits piled up on the one hand, the Marlboro Man was lounging on bill boards and riding across TV screens on the other hand...but it looked like the cowboy was winning. In 1963 the FDA finally made a move -- but decided that tobacco did not fit the "hazardous criteria" definition of the Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act of 1960. 

Why did it take America so long to even acknowledge tobacco's health problems? Because tobacco still made America run, like it did in 1730. The tobacco industry served 70 million smokers and took in 8 billion dollars per year...in 1964 dollars. (That's the equivalent of $58½ billion per year today.) That kind of money buys a lot of power -- power to advertise, power to spin the media in their favor, power to set up "gifts-for-favors" deals with opposing factions. Like many things that the Industrial Revolution touched, demand and supply rocketed to keep pace with each other, and neither side had the impetus to slow down -- or even self-regulate. Nevertheless, the message was getting through.

The BBC decided to ban cigarette ads in 1965, and the US finally added health warnings to cigarette packs in 1966. In a remarkable move, in 1967 the FCC allowed non-smoking groups to respond directly to cigarette ads on television. By 1970 cigarettes are the most heavily advertised product in America, (take a minute and let the import of that statement sink in) but the message was out there...and more people realized that Emperor Tobacco had no clothes. The louder and more shrill and insistent the advertising became, and the more the tobacco representatives insisted that there was absolutely nothing wrong with their healthy and wholesome product, the more sceptical the public became. Demand levelled out, then dropped off. And kept dropping.

In 1971 the TV cigarette ads in the US were banned. (The unintended consequence was the elimination of the non-smoking counter-ads as well.) And without the constant ads, people's heads started to clear, and they were able to look around and realize what they had become -- a nation of chain-smoking nicotine addicts.

From this point, it's all well-known recent history. The slow decline in smoking was inevitable. A small renaissance in cigar and pipe smoking came about in the 1980s, as non-inhaled smoke was seen to be a lesser threat.

For the past twenty years, it's been James I in 1604 all over again. As governments nibble away at the places we are allowed to smoke, the taxes on tobacco have increased: growing the governments' dependence on an income source they are ostensibly trying to eliminate.

So what bits of information can we glean, in the context of five hundred years of history? Next time, we'll draw some conclusions to the historical arcs of Beau Brummell to Cary Grant to Mad Men, paralleling the rise, use, and decline of pipes, cigars, and cigarettes.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Three of The Essential Accessory.

Click here to go to the previous essay chronologically, Part One of The Essential Accessory.

Click here to go back to the beginning.

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