Advertisements for cigarettes in the Detroit Jewish Chronicle.
Advertisements for cigarettes began being featured in the pages of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle starting in 1916 and they remained a constant presence in the JN until the 1990s

The heyday of cigarette advertising might be the 1930s and 1940s.

One subject that I have never addressed in a Looking Back column is smoking. Smoking? More to the point, I’m writing about a bygone cigarette culture.

Just to be sure, let me make a disclaimer — I am not advocating that anyone take up smoking cigarettes or anything else. Well, smoked fish can be tasty. And, I hold nothing against those who smoke. Indeed, smoking has a historic role in America.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

During cruises through the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, I have seen thousands of advertisements for cigarettes. Some of them are works of art. 

The Detroit Jewish Chronicle first published such ads in 1916 and they remained a constant presence in the JN until the 1990s. It is good to remember that, until the 1970s and 1980s, one could smoke just about anywhere. Since then, restrictions slowly reduced public smoking areas.

The first issue of the Chronicle on March 3, 1916, had an interesting ad for A.B. Newman Co. It stated that Newman was the “sole agent for The Imperial and Royal Austrian Hungarian and Bosnia-Herzegovinian Tobacco Monopolies.” Quite the title there! In subsequent ads, Newman Co. touted its real specialty: manufacturing paper and cork cigarette holders.  

The first ads for a cigarette brand were for Murad in 1917. They made claims such as “while most men smoke, it is one man in ten that knows tobacco.” Obviously, the one in ten chose Murad cigarettes. By the way, this was also the year that witnessed the first cigarette ads geared toward women. 

The heyday of cigarette advertising might be the 1930s and 1940s. This was an era that featured physician recommendations for particular brands. Interestingly, in opposition to this, a Dec. 24, 1943, ad in the JN for Old Gold claimed that “A good cigarette is a treat … not a treatment,” and was against “Cure-claims” or using the “coattails of doctors” in ads for cigarettes.

Most ads, however, used more tried-and-true methods such as celebrity endorsements. Skater and movie star Sonja Henie and bandleader Glenn Miller were featured in an ad for Chesterfield (Aug. 19, 1941). Likewise, actress and pin-up star Betty Grable was the focus of a Chesterfield ad (June 6, 1941).

With the advent of World War II, cigarettes became a serious matter for America’s armed forces. The American Zionist Association and the JN established a campaign that shipped hundreds of thousands of donated cigarettes overseas. A report about the campaign in the May 21, 1943, JN, cited a letter from General Douglas McArthur where he states that “personal comforts are most difficult to obtain here [Pacific Theater of operations].” Cunningham’s Drug Stores would also ship cartons of cigarettes free to troops overseas (May 29, 1942).

From 1963
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

The 1960s was another interesting era. For one example, the makers of Kent, Newport and Old Gold cigarettes used the story of Shalom Aleichem to push its brands (Nov. 15, 1963). Cigarettes could also be political. Brown & Williamson, makers of Lucky Strike and Pall Mall cigarettes, joined the Arab Boycott of Israel in 1956. See Boris Smoler’s column from July 28, 1961.

Cigarettes now come with a warning from the U.S. Surgeon General, and the JN no longer publishes advertisements for them. But they do have an interesting history. 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at

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