Follow The History Of Smoking In Advertising–From Aspirational To Shameful

The eternal question about smoking: Is it cool or is it gross? Look at any photo of James Dean and you can’t argue against the former, but check out the sobering statistics on lung cancer, or the image of a blackened lung, and you’ll inevitably land on “gross.”

The divide between how cigarettes are–and have been–perceived is explored in this online exhibit from Yale University’s Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library on the history of advertising and cigarettes. (A physical exhibit at the university closed earlier this week.) “Selling Smoke: Tobacco Advertising and Anti-Smoking Campaigns” details the history of smoking in advertising from the early days of pro-cigarette ads (where ads declared “You’re Safer Smoking Phillip Morris”) to the early days of anti-smoking campaigns (the American Cancer Society featuring a pregnant woman with a cigarette and asking, “Why Start Life Under A Cloud?”).

Bob Hope

The vintage ads are hard to take seriously by today’s standards, if only because they depict smoking as something so essential to personhood–it’s hard to imagine that sort of shamelessness in today’s market. Cigarettes turn women into desirable, stylish ladies and make men irresistible , and increase your chances of looking like Bob Hope or Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz. Victory over the Germans and/or the Commies comes from smoking Chesterfields, and smoking enough Raleighs can earn you prizes including a new blender. Looked back on through the lens of today’s cynical media-savvy environment, the pro-smoking campaigns seem to take on an air of desperation–which, given that the anti-smoking campaigns of the early ’80s would kick off a generational backlash, seems all the more appropriate in hindsight.

Take a trip thought cigarette ad history in the gallery above.