Collection: Smoking Guns
In a prime example of marketing wizardry, tobacco advertisements have simultaneously presented cigarettes as both sedatives and stimulants. Ads worked to convince consumers that cigarettes would calm the smoker when he felt nervous, or pep him up when he felt sluggish. This theme features ad campaigns from a variety of cigarette brands, all proclaiming cigarettes to be sedatives. Many of the ads in this theme are for Camel cigarettes, and claimed that only Camel cigarettes “do not upset your nerves.” This claim implied that other cigarette brands are stimulants and do cause people to get the jitters, but Camels are the exception. Though Camel was prolific in their anti-nerves campaigns in the 1930s, they were certainly not the only tobacco brand to approach this advertising technique, nor the first.
In 1918, Girard cigars claimed that their cigar “never gets on your nerves,” a slogan which Camel also used over a decade later in 1933. Girard’s ads pose questions that many readers would invariably answer in the affirmative: “Are you easily irritated? Easily annoyed? Do children get on your nerves? Do you fly off the handle and then feel ashamed of yourself?” The ad forces most readers to question their behavior and convinces them that they need intervention, when prior to reading the ad, they felt nothing was wrong. The ad posits Girard as at least one thing that won’t cause anxiety and as the solution to the problems people never even knew they had.
Other ads positioned also their products as relaxing agents. A 1929 ad for Taretyon cigarettes claims that “Tareytons are the choice of busy, active people. People whose work requires steady nerves.” Similarly, many of Camel’s ads explain that people in high pressure situations can’t afford to feel nervous or to have shaky hands (sharpshooters, circus flyers, salesmen, surgeons). The ads don’t provide the reader with the opportunity to think that avoiding cigarettes altogether would be an option if they were worried about the nervous effects of smoking; Instead, Camels are presented as the only “solution” to the nicotine-jolt problem. The ads target a wide variety of audiences, both male and female, young and old, daredevil and housewife. Camel ensures that everyone feels the need for a Camel fix, siting common fidgets like drumming one’s fingers, tapping one’s foot, jingling one’s keys, and even doodling as signs that someone has “jangled nerves.”
Still more brands took the anti-anxiety approach in their ads. In 1933, Lucky Strike advertised that “to anxiety – I bring relief, to distress – I bring courage.” One such ad features a man sitting nervously in the waiting room of a dentist’s office as a woman offers him a Lucky Strike to ease his nerves. Similarly, a 1929 ad for Spud cigarettes poses the question: “Do you smoke away anxiety?” Presuming you answered yes, the ad explains, “then you’ll appreciate Spud’s greater coolness.” The 1938 “Let up – Light up a Camel” campaign explained that “people with work to do break nerve tension” with Camels, and that “smokers find that Camel’s costlier tobaccos are soothing to the nerves!” Even 20 years later, in 1959, King Sano cigars advertised that “the man under pressure owes himself the utter luxury of the new ‘soft smoke’ King Sano.”
Also of note, many of these ads claim that Camels provide their smokers with “healthy nerves,” misleadingly implying that Camel cigarettes themselves are healthy.