A Brief History of Tobacco

Tobacco was one of America’s very first cash crops. First cultivated in Virginia in 1612, within seven years it had become the colony’s largest export. Around that time in 1619, the first slaves were landing in America. As trading networks around the world prospered, the tobacco industry grew massive and therefore also helped to fuel the need for more slave labor.

Cigars became popular in the 1800s and cigarettes followed shortly thereafter.

The first practical cigarette-making machine was built in the 1880s.

As early as 1930, researchers began to make a correlation between cancer and smoking. In 1952, Reader’s Digest published an artical entitled “Cancer by the Carton” which detailed the dangers of smoking and tobacco sales likely began to decline for the first time in centuries. In turn, the tobacco industry formed the Tobacco Industry Research Council to actually debate growing health concerns.

In the 1960s, the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health was formed and later released a 387-page report which concluded that cigarette smoking actually does relate to lung cancer. The report also cited specific carcinogens present such as cadmium, DDT, and arsenic. In 1965, congress passed the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act which required the Surgeon General’s warnings to be placed on all cigarette packaging.

Beginning in 1971, tobacco advertising was banned in all broadcast media such as television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and billboards. This total broadcast ban likely sent tobacco industry leaders into a tailspin until they figured out that feature films would still play on television unedited whether they contained tobacco products or not. Just think, this was another one of those giant little light bulb moments for Big Tobacco. They could embed cigarettes into popular films and these movies would later play on television unedited. Hmmmm… Very interesting.

Since the introduction of the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, all packaging and advertisements must display a health warning from the Surgeon General.

[ insert bit about soil problems related to tobacco i.e. soil becomes toxic over time ]

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 1991 that essentially proved as many six year old children could identify Joe Camel as could Mickey Mouse, however it wasn’t until 1997 that R.J. Reynolds ended the campaign. In 1999 under a $206 billion settlement, the Marlboro Man was removed from all billboards and magazines thus ending what is said to be one of the most famous advertisements of all time. To date, three out of the four men who portrayed the Marlboro Man have died of smoking-related diseases.

In 1998, a master settlement agreement banned product placement of tobacco in motion pictures however a loophole seems to allow filmmakers to continue to receive payments for smoking as long as specific tobacco brands cannot be identified. Since it is nearly impossible to argue whether a filmmaker has inserted smoking as an artistic choice or was specifically paid to insert cigarettes into their films, tobacco companies have essentially found a way around this obstacle. This is known in the industry as behavioral placement and has been proven to exist in hundreds of films worldwide.

[ Citations: A brief history of tobacco, Direct evidence of tobacco product placement and smoking behavioral placement in French movies. ]