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The Rise of the Cigarette

The Rise of the Cigarette 1830 -1970

Cigarette smoking did not arrive in Europe until about 1830 when the French popularised the habit of smoking tobacco in a rolled leaf or paper as an alternative to smoking tobacco in a pipe. The name Cigarette was in fact coined by the French.  

In England pipe smoking and the taking of snuff was already endemic in the population and it was not until the 1860’s that cigarette smoking began to grow in popularity. British Colonial and Military exploits took fighting men and foreign office staff all over the World throughout the last quarter of the 19th Century and when they returned home they brought with them the taste for exotic foreign tobacco blends. This quickly spread to the population and it became fashionable to smoke these new exotic smelling cigarettes.  

Initially cigarettes like tobacco were sold by weight and could be found in all manner of retail establishments, different types were identified by origin and tobacco type, size, shape and stock numbers rather than by a brand. The early cigarettes were all plain (No tips or filters) but when Turkish, Egyptian and Russian cigarettes arrived the Gold Tip was introduced. This was a small band of Gold Leaf wrapped around one end of the cigarette which stopped the smoker’s lips sticking to the cigarette paper. This was later followed by the introduction of Cork Tips and imitation gold paper which was obviously a cheaper alternative to real gold leaf.  

As the smoking habit became more fashionable companies saw the benefit of branding and branded packaging started to evolve, however the old numbering and blend identification was not discarded with the result that the new brands often had overly complicated names with multiple variations of Gold Tipped (G.T.) Cork Tipped (C.T.) Round, Oval, Long, Medium, Small, Full Strength, Medium Strength, and later on Mild.  

At first most brands were sold in wooden and cardboard boxes of 100 or more cigarettes with some of the more exclusive and exotic brands being offered in elaborate tins. Cardboard slides of 10 and 20 cigarettes and card boxes of 25 and 50 were introduced progressively from around 1880 and packs of 5 cigarettes in Foils or Paper packets started to appear around 1890.  

The Tobacco Wars between The American Tobacco Company and the British Manufacturers at the turn of the Century saw the first advertising battles between leading players in the market. Home delivery, token collecting, prize competitions and card collections were offered by all of the leading brands, all of which further promoted the growth of the overall cigarette market.  

The First World War saw a massive growth in smoking. The manufacturers responded to the increase in demand by introducing the penny pack of 5 cigarettes. These were normally sold in disposable foil or paper packets, which is why few survive today despite the fact that millions that were produced.  

The health concerns about tobacco smoking and in particular cigarette smoking had been around since the late 1800’s, but after the War when many men came home heavily addicted to cigarettes and often in failing health, this issue came to the surface again and as a result the first filter tipped cigarettes were introduced around 1920. Gradually milder versions of most leading brands were introduced and the stronger plain cigarettes were slowly replaced.  

Between 1920 and 1930, the cigarette entered its golden era. Cigarette smoking was highly fashionable for men and women and brand names and pack designs reflected the glamorous image that smoking had attained. Leading Clubs and Societies and major Theatre and Cinema chains (the main source of public entertainment) all had their own brands with names such as Foyer, Private Lounge and Circle.  

After 1930 Virginia tobacco cigarettes started to dominate and the more exotic imported brands started to disappear. Gold tips normally associated with the imported brands were gradually replaced by the new filter tipped brands and had all but gone by 1940.  

The Second World War in 1940/45 caused a great contraction in the number of cigarette manufacturers and distributors. Many brands and companies disappeared altogether and many that remained merged together.  

Most new brands and brands re-launched after 1950 offered a filter tipped alternative to the plain cigarette and frequently provided Mild versions to the smoker. In 1960 a new King Size cigarette was introduced by Benson & Hedges and this was quickly copied by other manufacturers. Super Kings, International Size and Slims followed soon after.

From 1970 many plain and full strength cigarettes such as Capstan and Magnum were dropped in the face of increasing health concerns around smoking. Some companies introduced brands containing tobacco substitutes but this did not succeed. Many more Mild and Light variations were introduced to placate the anti-smoking lobby. In 1971 the first health warnings appeared on cigarette packets in the UK  

By 1980 the number of mainstream manufacturers in the UK had contracted and their product portfolios reduced considerably. Nearly all 10 and 5 packet sizes had been discontinued and only the leading brands were still available in larger pack sizes.