TOBACCO GOES TO WAR
From the Civil War through Vietnam, American troops discovered tobacco. There was something about the nicotine that calmed the nerves, relieved the constant tension. The true health dangers from tobacco were still unrecognized, even when the Korean War was fought in the early 1950s. So, the tobacco companies “wrapped themselves in the flag,” using advertising and free cigarettes to create a patriotic image as they expanded the market for tobacco products.
While this could be viewed as totally self-serving and cynical, the troops nevertheless appreciated the free cigarettes during the World Wars. At the time, the young men and women who put their lives on the line could not have been very concerned about the ill effects of tobacco that they might suffer in thirty or forty years. They were looking for anything that would get them through the next day, or perhaps the next ten minutes. And even the rare soldier who did not use tobacco found the cigarettes to be a convenient medium for barter, either with fellow troopers or the civilian population who loved the American cigarettes when they could get them.
We could begin with tobacco in the Revolutionary War and trace its impact forward through time. But we have recently observed June 6, the 77th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, and it is timely to begin with World War II because of that most important anniversary. We will tell the World War II story about tobacco and eventually work backward through America’s war history.
[Note: Given the length of this post, a formatted PDF can also be found HERE.]
TOBACCO GOES TO WAR
On the morning of June 6, 1944, 6,939 ships, the mightiest armada the world had ever seen, or probably ever will see, approached the beaches at Normandy. The sea force was supplemented by 2,395 aircraft, and 867 gliders. These would send 156 thousand men ashore that day to begin the long-awaited fight to liberate Europe from the clutch of Nazi Germany.
This story about tobacco is a mere sideline to the drama of that day and that war. I have long been interested in the D-Day story and have visited Normandy many times. Fortunately, through mutual friends, I have had the pleasure of meeting Patrick Hilyer and his lovely wife Nicky. They are Brits who have made Normandy their home and who guide tours of the area. Patrick has twice shown me around the beaches and hedgerows that were the sites of unbelievable battles, and to the American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer.
At his website, welovenormandy.com, you can see his detailed and informative podcasts as he guides his visitors around these historic places. Please take a look at his website and consider subscribing to his virtual tours. And if you visit Normandy, do not miss an opportunity to have him guide you across this hallowed ground. You will not be disappointed. You will have an experience that you will remember forever.
WORLD WAR II – THE GREATEST GENERATION
Tom Brokaw gave the well-deserved name to those young men and women who fought to defeat the Axis powers, regimes that will be remembered among the evilest in history. These young men and women had grown to adulthood in one of the most turbulent and difficult financial times in America – the Great Depression. Just as the country began to get its economic footing, and life held a bit more promise for these young adults, war intervened in 1941, and they made even greater sacrifices in the next four years. Our British cousins “across the pond” had already been fighting for two years, and only they stood between Germany and its conquest of all of Europe.
SMOKE ’EM IF YOU GOT ’EM
How can anyone ever in service forget the welcome call to “Take 10; smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!” Or, how about the threatening tone of “Field strip that cigarette butt, Soldier!” (Break down the cigarette butt – scattering the tobacco and rolling the piece of paper into a tiny ball – like field stripping an M-1 rifle into its component parts.)[i]
Smoking cigarettes were a part of almost every serviceman’s routine. Rates of smoking tripled. Free cigarettes were distributed to soldiers and even included with ration kits. Soldiers were encouraged to smoke to relieve boredom and improve morale, and in 1943 their demand helped U.S. companies manufacture 290 billion cigarettes.
WILLIE AND JOE
Cigarettes dangled from the lips of battle-weary soldiers, of cartoon characters in “Stars & Stripes” like Bill Mauldin’s Willy and Joe, and of American wounded laid out on stretchers in movie newsreels, newspapers, and “Life” magazine. One publication went as far as to describe wartime smoking as the “last and only solace of the wounded.” Even President Roosevelt, the commander-in-chief, was frequently pictured smoking, the ever-present cigarette holder clamped firmly in his teeth. Meanwhile, Ike chain-smoked four packs daily, Churchill preferred cigars, and MacArthur drew on his corncob.
Bill Mauldin was an 18-year-old soldier training with the 45th Infantry Division in 1940. He cartooned part-time for the camp newspaper. Mauldin was sent to combat, and his two characters, Willie and Joe gradually became darker as they grew weary of the enduring miseries of war. He extended the bristles on their faces and the eyes – "too old for those young bodies", as Mauldin put it – showed how much Willie and Joe suffered. In most cartoons, they were shown in the rain, mud, and other dire conditions, while they contemplated the whole situation. Here they are with the cigarette dangling from Willie’s lip, often shown in the cartoon.
Mauldin captured the essence of the war-weary “dog-faces” who slogged their way across Europe to defeat the Nazis. However, some officers, notably General George Patton, did not care for Mauldin’s sense of humor. He tried to stop the cartoons, but General Eisenhower allowed them to continue.[ii]
The cigarette habit exploded during WW II with the inclusion of cigarettes in GI rations, the distribution of free cigarettes to VA hospitals and patriotic marketing themes. During World War II (and until 1976) a mini pack of either three or four Old Gold, Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, or Camel cigarettes, along with a fold of waterproof paper matches, was included in the rations issued to our fighting troops. Standard packs of 20 Pall Mall, Philip Morris, Wings, Fatima, and other brands were usually supplied by the USO, by major tobacco companies trying to build brand loyalty among the troops, or in care packages from folks back home. [iii]
BILLBOARDS 1942 [iv]
R.J. Reynolds’ Camel adds played up the positive benefits of their cigarettes for the war effort.
CIGARETTES and MATCHES
One innovative feature of the "K" ration was the cigarette ration. Cigarettes were one of our hardest things to supply. Considering priority, it's hard to convince yourself that cigarettes are in the same class as food and ammunition, but they were near it. These two soldiers taking a smoke could easily have been the real life “Willie and Joe,” as were thousands of other young men in Europe. [v]
Four Camel cigarettes were placed in a cardboard tray that fitted in a sleeve printed with the regular colorful Camel design.
Marine Pfc. Douglas Lightheart (right) cradles a 30-caliber machine gun in his lap while he and his buddy, Pfc. Gerald Churchby, take time out for a cigarette break on the Peleliu Islands, July 1944. Courtesy of NARA, Digital Archives, 532538. [vi]
Troops would get Lucky Strike cigarettes in their rations and each cigarette was stamped with the brand’s logo along the top end of the cigarette. It’s believed that those fighting either in Europe or the Pacific would flip every cigarette in the pack except for one. That way, when a trooper smoked one, he’d burn the stamped logo first (this was before the days of filtered cigarettes).
That way, if he had to drop the cigarette for any reason, the enemy couldn’t quickly determine the country of origin — any identifying mark was quickly turned to ash. The last cigarette was the only exception — and if you survived long enough to smoke it, you were considered lucky. [vii]
CIGARETTES AS MONEY
“What can you do with cigarettes after you quit smoking?” Well, if you are in a German prisoner of war camp, you might have used cigarettes for money. Cigarettes began to circulate as money, quite naturally, to solve the problem of double coincidence of wants. The Red Cross brought care packages to the POW camps and gave prisoners little packages that contained chocolate, cheese, other goods, and cigarettes. If you did not want cigarettes, and you did not want chocolate, you could make a trade. If you had cheese and wanted chocolate, you could trade your cheese for cigarettes, knowing that eventually you would be able to trade the cigarettes for chocolate when you found the right trading partner. Cigarettes began to circulate as money, the medium of exchange. They also began to fulfill the other roles that money plays, a unit of account. That is, prices began to be quoted in cigarettes. It cost 80 cigarettes to buy a shirt or 2 cigarettes to get a shirt laundered. Also, cigarettes began to be used as a store of value. People would hoard cigarettes as a kind of savings and spend them whenever they needed to buy something. So, cigarettes were a kind of commodity money, circulating, being saved, and being used as a unit of account. [viii]
A NEW GENREATION OF SMOKERS
During World War II (as they had in WWI), soldiers received cigarettes in their war rations. In attempts to further increase cigarette popularity among the public, R. J. Reynolds and other cigarette makers featured soldiers in their advertisements smoking cigarettes in the trenches.
The company promoted its cigarettes almost everywhere, including on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, on matchbook covers, on the sides of barns and in point-of-purchase retail store displays.
When the war ended the soldiers returned addicted, an unintended casualty of the War, and one that wouldn’t be recognized for several more decades. [ix]
LUCKY STRIKE GREEN HAS GONE TO WAR!
Lucky Strike’s signature dark green pack was changed in late 1942. In a famous advertising campaign that used the slogan "Lucky Strike Green has gone to war", the company claimed the change was made because the copper used in the green color was needed for World War II. However, the truth of the matter was that the white package was introduced to modernize the label and to increase the appeal of the package among female smokers. The war effort became a convenient way to make the product more marketable while appearing patriotic at the same time.
The “Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War” campaign began in late 1942. An advertising campaign, which was very successful for the American Tobacco Company. In 1942 the golden borders and side panels were replaced with the color buff. This because Copper powder was used to make gold ink, but copper was a critical war material in short supply. The green ink also used to print Lucky Strike labels was now running low, with just a three-month supply on hand. Chromium, the chemical element used to make solid green ink, was also on the government’s critical list. Then, due to the demand for green pigment for the war effort, and pressure from consumers that disliked the green pack, changed the color of the pack to white in 1942/43. Lucky Strike was spelled out on the bottom of the 1943 white pack. This was a carryover from the green design.
The American Tobacco Company started a new advertising campaign in 1944, “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco”. The L.S./M.F.T was added to every pack. The broad pen strokes that make up the letters are those of George Washington Hill, who ordered them printed on the bottom of every Lucky Strike pack. This slogan was so popular, it was never eliminated from the pack and is still on the Lucky Strike cigarette packs sold today. [x]
And last – this iconic photo supplied by my friend Patrick Hilyer who conducts tours of the Normandy D-Day invasion.
The Reverend Victor Leach, Padre (Chaplain) of 13/18th Hussars (British), handing out cigarettes at Hermanville-sur-Mer, 7 June 1944.
Today, 986 British soldiers, 13 Canadians, 3 Australians and 3 French (1st Battalion Marines Commando) rest in the Hermanville-sur-Mer military cemetery.