More Reasons to Love Tobacco*

*I’m being ironic, sardonic and acerbic. There are no reasons to love tobacco, but there are reasons to study the ephemera of tobacco marketing. Understanding how an industry that caters to and perpetuates ill health on so many levels can be so successful for so many years demands attention.

Before the cigarette package and the give-a-ways (i.e. cigarette cards) that came as premiums, tobacco was packaged in bags – large and small. Tobacco also was wrapped in paper and the paper needed closures. The paper and bags were often “tagged” (indeed branded) with a metallic fastener called a tobacco tag or cut plug markers, which either showed the brand name and image or some other identifying mark – logos by any other name. These were collectibles back in the day and also today. You can learn more here from the National Cigar History Museum Exhibit by Tony Hyman (or an excerpt below).

P. Lorillard was the first company to use tags made of tin to identify their products, but in one of those historic bad ideas, decided to put their tags under the outside leaf which wrapped the brick, thus rendering it invisible until cut or bitten. This bad marketing idea led to chipped teeth and unhappy customers. Ben Finzer, owner of the Ben Finzer Tobacco Company in Louisville, liked the idea of tin tags, and became the first to put them on the outside of the slab or twist. Finzer tried unsuccessfully to patent the idea and placement. After the courts turned him down, tobacco manufacturers everywhere adopted the use of colorful tin tags. Because the tags were so inexpensive to make, custom brands and corresponding tags were easily created for retailers and wholesalers. Collectors have catalogued more than 12,000 different tags.

A more scholarly overview can be found here. And a collector’s view can be seen here and  here.

American Navy Tobacco Tag

Tobacco Tag

Battle Ax Tobacco Tag

Kingbult Tobacco Tag

Town Talk

Battle Ax Tobacco Tag

5 thoughts on “More Reasons to Love Tobacco*

  1. @brooklynbrett

    I love these tobacco tags. A facinating piece of ephemera from a bygone era.
    I smoke a cigar or two every month and quite enjoy it. I find immense satisfaction from them in fact. That overzealous busy bodies seek to overrule the personal choices and experiences of divergent people with different tastes speaks to a wave of strangling regimentation that is manifesting itself in our political system.
    Fretful nannies are everywhere and politicians seeking adjulation, power and reelection will cater to them and trample all over our liberties in the process. Please resist these tyrants.

  2. Joe

    Last year my cousin died of lung cancer at age 64.  He did two tours of duty in Vietnam flying med vac helicopters, and was exposed to many destructive chemicals such as agent orange. What did everyone focus on?  That he smoked cigarettes.  The statistics on smoking we are presented with are skewed.  I would like to see statistics for those who die from lung cancer that served in battle vs. those who did not. I am not a smoker, but I think the anti-cigarette campaigns have brainwashed us with propaganda, and vilified those who smoke even if to enjoy the relaxing pleasure of an occasional cigarette.
    Since this is a graphic design website I want to express my appreciation to Steven Heller who gives a great column everyday and isn’t afraid to let us know his own opinions. 

  3. Jon

    You both actually have a point. Cigarettes are not the best thing for you but there are plenty of things in this world that are not good for you. As far as causing cancer…there has been no difinative proof that cigarettes cause cancer. There are people who die of cancer without ever having smoked a day in their life, not to mention the many other harmful things we are exposed to on a daily basis. (BTW there is no connection to cancer and second hand smoke either) But if there is some connection to SOME PEOPLE having cancer directly because of smoking, that doesn’t mean that everyone who smokes will end up getting cancer. How do we know its not the processed food that is causing the rampant cancer? My point is, that there is always going to be something out there that is “not” good for you, but I believe in doing what makes me happy. People climb mountains and die, why is there no TV campaign to make them aware that it is bad for them? People die everyday from alcohol (directly or indirectly) why is it that people seem more concerned about smokers? Are you going to spend ur life avoiding the “bad” things and possibly missing the good things?

  4. Elijah Meyer

    Joe: there are quite a few things that don’t equal a death sentence when consumed in moderation: cocaine, heroin and crystal meth, for example. That doesn’t mean they’re not bad for you.

    Cigarettes are very bad for you, and very addictive (thus making the moderation bit a rare exception). The science is in on that one, and it’s a slam-dunk. I don’t know whether that proves or disproves anything about agent orange or napalm. Those are also very bad for you. I’m pretty sure the list of habitual smokers who weren’t exposed to those chemicals but still managed to die of lung cancer is rather long.

  5. Joe

    I do not believe that smoking tobacco in moderation is the death sentence that it’s made out to be.
    The government has blamed the tobacco industry for lung problems in order to deny that many of the people who develop COPD or lung cancer were exposed to harmful chemicals while fighting America’s wars.  I have had a few friends and relatives die from cancer.  These people were exposed to agent orange,napalm, and explosives in Korea and in Vietnam. Their illness was blamed on smoking cigarettes, not what they inhaled during battle. I strongly doubt that smoking a few cigarettes caused their health issues. It is the U.S. government that wants us to believe it’s tobacco in order to deny compensation to those who fought.