Cigarette Pack Collectors' Association

                                The Beginning of "The Cigarette Age" 1913-1920

 

    Cigarette smoking moved into the mainstream of American culture during World War I.  Before the war began in 1914, cigarettes represented less than seven percent of total tobacco consumption in the US but by 1920, the figure was up to twenty percent. The war may not have been the cause of the major shift in smoking habits but it certainly accelerated the process. Millions of  US soldiers and sailors smoked cigarettes given to them by their government, civic organizations, and well meaning individuals. The doughboys also found cigarettes to be a more convenient form of tobacco under wartime conditions. The pack was easy to carry in a uniform pocket, it wasn’t constantly going out like a pipe or subject to getting soggy like a cigar and it could be ‘snuffed” on a moment’s notice and saved for later.

      When the United States entered the war in 1917, the sale of cigarettes was illegal in eight states and legislation to prohibit them was pending in twenty-two others. Across the nation, the smoking of cigarettes was generally looked upon with disdain. It was associated primarily with eastern European immigrants living in urban centers or so called “city dandies”. Evangelist, Billy Sunday expressed the general sentiment when he said: “There is nothing manly about smoking cigarettes. For God’s sake, if you must smoke, get a pipe”.

    Following their success in passing legislation prohibiting the sale of alcohol across the nation, activists like Lucy Page Gaston had set their sights on outlawing “the little white slaver”. However, with the advent of the war, attitudes towards cigarettes changed as many people came to view them as a means of offering a respite from the horrors of battle. National organizations such as The Salvation Army which had previously strongly opposed cigarettes joined with others like The American Red Cross in actively distributing free smokes to soldiers at camps and hospitals both at home and overseas. The YMCA went to great lengths to deliver cigarettes to soldiers on the front lines even pressing into service a dog whom they named “Dobut” to race through the trenches carrying cartons of smokes on his back.       

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               "Dobut" on a mission for the YMCA

                                                                                                                                         to deliver cigarettes to soldiers on the

                                                                                                                                         front lines.

     WWI may have served as a catalyst in making cigarettes the ‘national smoke’ but other forces were also at work  during the period. Among these were new tax laws, improved manufacturing processes and better distribution networks. But it was the coming of the “Jazz Age” which perhaps had the most influence as the cigarette became the perfect “freedom torch” for the emerging   youth culture in America .

         Bibliography:  Cigarette Wars by Cassandra Tate, Oxford University. Press, 1999