Tobacco advertising dates to 1789, when Lorillard Brothers began placing advertisements in New York newspapers for its snuff and tobacco products. Because the newborn industry relied primarily on hand production, manufacturers could only meet the demands of their immediate communities. Early ads were thus limited to local newspapers, as well as packaging like tobacco tins and promotional items like tobacco cards, which debuted in the 1870s.

With the patent of a cigarette rolling machine in 1881, the productivity of tobacco companies greatly increased. Trademark tobacco signs soon proliferated as well, from giant wall-sized advertisements to display signs designed for store countertops.

Many early tobacco advertisements were simple affairs of colored text, sometimes depicting a tobacco tin or cigarette carton. In the late 1800s, the Mail Pouch Tobacco brand adopted a particularly clever method by partnering with rural families to use roadside barns as billboards. In bold white-and-yellow lettering on a plain black background, the company’s signature slogan appeared on buildings across the United States.

During the 1910s, tobacco signage in porcelain, tin, and cardboard began to emphasize the pleasures of smoking, with slogans declaring each product’s smoothness or beneficial effects. Tobacco was invariably described as mild, cool, sweet, blended, mellow, fresh, or, in the case of a straightforward Virginia Cigarettes sign from the 1920s, as a product that “will not affect your throat.”

During World War II, Lucky Strike debuted a new tagline for its signs, exclaiming “Lucky Strike Green Has Gone To War!” The slogan coincided with a switch from dark green packaging to a clean white design with a cryptic, Morse-code style abbreviation reading “L.S./M.F.T.,” or “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” The campaign stressed that its former copper-based sign color had been changed to support the war effort—emotional marketing at its best.

As cigarette smoking became a new American pastime, signs advertising smoking became more elaborate, often with brightly colored lithographed images. By the 1950s, tobacco signage frequently portrayed smoking as a sign of taste and distinction. Cigarettes were endorsed by anyone with the power of suggestion, from actresses to athletes to doctors. Particularly ironic today are the unfortunate Camel cigarette signs that assured customers, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

One of the longest running campaigns involved the Marlboro Man, a cowboy character developed in the 1950s just as the health risks of smoking began to tarnish the industry’s repu...

In 1969, though, after the Federal Trade Commission began requiring tobacco companies to include the Surgeon General’s warning on its products, regulations in the United States steadily limited tobacco advertisements. Soon many areas banned outdoor signage for tobacco or cigarettes, thus officially ending the industry’s use of sign advertising. In fact, today, the only tobacco-related signs seen in public are those boldface warnings that simply read “No Smoking.”

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Hyman's National Cigar Museum

Hyman's National Cigar Museum

A treasure trove of information about cigars and cigar ephemera, this site is a must-see for any tobacciana collect… [read review or visit site]

Advertising Antiques

Advertising Antiques

This classy looking British site features hundreds of high resolution photos of antique porcelain pre-war (enamel) … [read review or visit site]

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

This gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s contains no surgeon general's warning, just p… [read review or visit site]

Match World

Match World

This ambitious site showcases the 20,000-item Rankei Library matchbook collection, owned by the Japan Match Manufac… [read review or visit site]

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Don Wearmouth and his wife showcase the 230 beautiful silk designs that were distributed free with Kensitas cigaret… [read review or visit site]

Historical Marker Database

Historical Marker Database

If you're the type who pulls over when you see a 'historic marker ahead' sign, you'll love this site. Orchestrated … [read review or visit site]

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Ralph and Carol Falvo's excellent collection of automobiles, petroliana, jukeboxes, soda, and general store items. … [read review or visit site]

Matchbox Labels

Matchbox Labels

Jane McDevitt's huge Flickr photoset of matchbox labels, primarily Eastern European, from the 1950s and 60s. These … [read review or visit site]

Matchbook Museum

Matchbook Museum

James Lileks' gallery of 400 matchbooks from coffee shops, hotels, motels, bars, banks, restaurants and more. Lilek… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vtg 1950's Drink Coca-cola Sign Of Good Taste Refresh Yourself Cigar ThermometerVintage 1940's Model 10c Pipe Cigarette Tobacco Gas Oil Metal Door Push SignVintage 1930's Odin 5c Cigar Tobacco Gas Oil 28" Embossed Metal Sign19thc Antique C.m.i.u Of America Smoke Union-made Cigars Advertising Sign1907 Helmar Cigarettes Cowgirl Chromolithograph Advertising Sign With FrameRare Vintage 1920's Honest Scrap Chewing Tobacco Porcelain Metal Sign~niceVintage 1960's Kool Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Station 26" Metal Sign W/penguinRare 1910's Big Ben Tobacco Pocket Tin Can Imperial Montreal Canada SignVintage 1920's Federal Judge 5c Cigar Tobacco Gas Oil 20" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1950's Camels Camel Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Station 32" Metal Sign~niceAntique "polar Bear Tobacco" 7" X 3 1/2" Porcelain Door Push Sign! Country StoreVintage 1930's Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco 39" Porcelain Metal Thermometer Sign10" Long Marsh Wheeling Stogies Cigar Advertising Porcelain Stip Sign Vintage Red Man Chewing Tobacco 18" Embossed Metal Sign W/indian~niceVintage 1950's Camel Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Station 2 Sided Metal Flange SignVintage 1950's Chew Smoke Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco 36" Embossed Metal Sign Vintage 1910's New Old Stock Tin Cigarette Advertising Embossed Sign ReedsdaleNos 1950s Vintage Unused Near Mint Mail Pouch Tobacco Old Embossed Tin SignVintage 1940's No Smoking Matches Lights Gas Station Porcelain Metal Sign~niceVintage Winston Cigarettes Embossed Metal Advertising Thermometer - Tobacco Sign1986 Nos Winston Cigarette Pack Large Tin Display Flange SignRare 1910's Harry Horne Circus Club Mallows Monkey Tin Can Canada Sign CigarVintage Original Embossed Tin Sign Advertising Hi-plane Tobacco 14.5 X 35 InchesOriginal Union 76 No Smoking Stop Motor Gas Station Pump Porcelain SignCigar Store Indian Chiclets Vending Machine Lawrence Ma 1916 Cabinet PhotosVintage Zig-zag Rolling Papers Tobacco 24" Embossed Metal Marijuana SignOriginal Gas Station Porcelain Sign No Smoking Stop Your Motor Above Gas Pump Vintage Advertising Old Gold Cigarettes Tin Sign Screen Door PushVintage 1960's Come In! Viceroy Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Station 25" Metal SignVintage "safety First Chew Pay Car" 7" X 3.5" Porcelain Tobacco Door Push! Sign!Vintage Bloodhound Chewing Tobacco Sign, 27.5" X 17.75"Vintage 1950's Marvels Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Station 15" Metal SignVintage Reedsdale Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Oil 20" Embossed Metal Tin SignVintage 1950's Sir Walter Raleigh Smoking Pipe Tobacco 26" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1960's We Are Open Viceroy Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Station 15" Metal SignRare Circa 1910's High Rollers Havana 5 Cent Cigars Embossed Tin Sign G328Vintage Original Embossed Tin Cigar Sign Mark Twain 1930's 4 Old Metal Cigarette Display Sign Signs Chesterfield L&m OasisVintage 1950's Tops Sweet Snuff Chewing Tobacco Gas Oil 18" Embossed Metal Sign1953 Tampa Nugget Cigar Flange Steel SignVintage Archer 60 Cent Tobacco Tin Can Advertising Smoking Cigarette Sign Vintage Winston Tin Advertising Tobacco Thermometer Sign Oil No Reserve!Hamm's Beer Can Lighter Cigarette Vintage SignCigar City Brewing Lot Maduro Metal Sign Beer Bottle Bolita Brown Ale Tap HandleRare Version 1910's Buckingham Tobacco Tin Can Canada Sign Philip MorrisOriginal C.1890 Cigar Store Indian~ New York City Storefront~ Pipes & CigarettesVintage Kodiak Ice Chewing Tobacco Gas Station Embossed Metal Sign W/bearYankee Girl Porcelain Sign Tobacco No ReserveVintage Kentucky Club Smoking Tabacco Cardboard Advertising Display SignFrank Gallagher 3' Wooden Cigar Store Indian Vintage Phillies Cigar Cigars Tobacco Gas Station 27" Embossed Metal SignCollectible Harley-davidson Cigarettes Tin Sign, New Old StockRare Old Ande Rooney Porcelain Enameled Yellow Cab Cigars Advertising Soda SignVintage Tobacciana: Original Chesterfield Cigarette Metal Sign 19.25 X 29.5"Vintage Old Gold Flake Cigarettes Ad Litho Tin Sign Board London Chesterfield Cigarette Cardboard Sign 2001 Nos Mint Condition Copenhagen Black Metal Sign Skoal Chew Us TobaccoVintage Original Embossed Tin Cigar Sign Odin 1930's Vintage R.j. Gold Chewing Tobacco Gas Station 22" Embossed Metal SignVintage Porcelain " No Smoking " Sign Blue & White Border Marked Gm 18964