When much younger I smoked cigarettes, lots and lots of cigarettes; at one time I smoked a pipe, but mainly cigarettes. I honestly forget how I started, it was probably because my Dad smoked, and all my mates commenced smoking, and you feel ‘left out’ if you aren’t doing what your mates are doing. There was a fair bit of advertising, mostly for British brands, and as I lived for most of my teenage years in a pub, we got used to smoking.
The advertising was all around us, from Senior Service, to Woodbines, the sophisticated smoked Gauloise, those who felt lucky went for Luckies, for Chesterfield; and of course for the big one: Marlborough. We smoked, and inhaled, and honestly believed that smoking helped us relax, and helped us tackle stress, and not too many people wondered why such an awful lot of cash was literally pouring into the Advertising.
When the British saw this in 1940, it wasn’t considered anything else than linking a patriotic photo with a product which was considered okay; after all if the Royal Navy smoked; and His Majesty the King smoked, what did that say for the products? Maybe a little naive, but we were at war, and we needed to cling to something. After the War was over, the ads got a lot more into our lives, and they went from ‘smoke this, and you are cool’ to ‘you are never alone with a Kent’.
Over in America, Big Tobacco was pushing for ‘Market Share’ with all the tobacco giants scrambling for their share of the suckers’ cash, and there was one hell of a lot of cash just swishing around. From Camels’ ‘less nicotine’ to Chesterfields’ ‘Top choice’, they all shoved their wares into the minds of America, but the big winner was Philip Morris; with one single advert series ‘Come back to Marlboro Country’, where they went from a one percent share to the fourth largest cigarette company in the USA. Darrell Winfield was the epitome of the Marlboro Man, an image which was designed to reflect that which Americans believe, and to a large extent, are, which is rugged, individualistic, and stubborn. He epitomised resilience, self-sufficiency, independence and free enterprise.”
The adverts also were, legally, very very subtle and clever. Because they levered the ‘individualistic’ idea of America, they also pushed the ‘fact’ that the smoker chooses to smoke entirely of his own free will, and nobody made him inhale noxious substances by force.
I stopped smoking over thirty years ago, before I returned to England with my family. It was a nightmare journey which lasted for over a fortnight; I was like a bear with a sore head, my kids walked softly past my armchair; and the worst part was when I found myself reaching out for a non-existent pack of smokes. But then the craving went away, I re-discovered my sense of smell, of taste, and the fiction that it helped me relax was also found to be false. I had been addicted, and I had broken that addiction. Fortunately, all of my kids have never smoked, as they have far too much sense, and of course they saw what it did to me, with a hacking cough which never seemed to leave me, together with the reek of tobacco smoke on all my clothing. I stopped for purely economic reasons when we left South Africa; I was buying thirty smokes for 30p, and when we came back in 1984, I saw the prices on the shelves at twenty smokes for £1.85. I had a ‘health check-up’ about eight years after I stopped smoking, and the Consultant remarked ‘Your lungs are just starting to recover’. Says a great deal for the strength of my body, but also a great deal about the suggestive power of words, and pictures, in adverts today!