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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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    

1920s Edgeworth Tobacco SignNos 1950s Vintage Unused Near Mint * Mail Pouch Tobacco Old Embossed Tin SignSuperb 1950's 7up Seven Up "the All Drink Family" Cigarette Lighter + Box SignRare Van Dyke Cigar Tobacco Tin Sign Advertising Vintage Authentic Exc Cond 179wLarge Vintage 1950's Philip Morris Cigarettes Tobacco 42" Embossed Metal SignEarly Velvet Tobacco Tin Litho Sign (rare)Vintage 1950's Philip Morris Cigarettes Tobacco 27" Metal Embossed SignHi Plane Tobacco Tin SignNice Old Porcelain Enamel Sir Walter Raleigh Pocket Tin Advertising Tobacco SignVintage 1940's Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco 39" Porcelain Metal Thermometer SignVintage C.1910 El Macco Cigars Tobacco 24" Embossed Metal SignOriginal Good Old Bl Tobacco Porcelain SignVintage**rare**copenhagen Snuff Chew Tobacco Door Push SignNos Near Mint 1960 Vintage Kent Cigarette Graphic Old 11x19 In Gas Station Sign(i-447) Large Vintage Piedmont Tobacco Advertising Porcelain Metal Sign 46"Ca1880 "oceola" Tobacco Chromo Advertising Sign / Large Crate Label Indian MotifVintage Mail Pouch Tobacco Thermometer Sign. Nos. Mint!!!!Vintage 50's Unused "chew Smoke Mail Pouch Tobacco" Embossed Tin Sign Old Stock1872 "the International" Tobacco Chromo Advertising Sign / Large Crate LabelOld Metal Die Cut Yankee Girl Chewing Tobacco SignNy Vintage Blue Porcelain No Smoking SignNice Old Culture Tobacco Vertical Pocket Tin Advertising Tobacco Sign Ca1880 "sailor's Hope" Tobacco Chromo Advertising Sign / Large Crate LabelVintage Old Gold Cigarettes Not A Cough In A Carload Sign1870's "yellow Rose" Tobacco Chromo Advertising Sign / Large Crate LabelRare Original 1966 Copenhagen Chewing Tobacco Paper Store Sign. Nos Stunning!Very Nice ~ 1950s Vintage L&m Cigarettes Old Die-cut Tin SignVintage Bob Hope Chesterfield Cigarette SignVery Rare 50 Cents Canada Straight Small Beaver Sign Tobacco Tin Canada CanVintage C.1960 Smoke Camels Camel Cigarettes Tobacco 20" Metal SignPhilip Morris Cigarettes Tobacco Reproduction 27" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1950's Camel Cigarettes Tobacco Take Home A Carton 23" Metal SignBlack Americana Cardboard Smoking Sambo Standup Advertising Display SignStar Tobacco SignVintage C.1960 Camel Cigarettes Tobacco 2 Sided 13" Metal Flange SignNear Mint 1930s Vintage Garcia Grande Corona Cigar Old Country Store SignNos Near Mint 1940s Vintage Red Man Chew Tobacco Old Country Store Indian SignVintage 1930s 40s Piedmont Cigarettes Advertising Photo Sign UnusualVintage Van Dam Cigar Sign Old Metal Not Porcelain Tobacco BluntVintage Napoleon Cigar Sign Lucky Strike Cigarette Sign Tobacco Cigar Usa Made Camel Ww2 Style1920s Original Rare Metal Bruton's Snuff Tobacco Chew Door Push Sign Vintage Metal Cigar SignOriginal Vintage Salem Cigarettes "refreshes Your Taste" Tin Sign / ThermometerVtg L & M Filters Superior Taste Cigarette Tin Litho Advertising Sign Door Push Vintage 1930s 40s Lew Morris Cigars 5 Cents Advertising Sign UnusualMail Pouch Tobacco Therometer Sign Circa 1949 No Reserve !Vtg Gas Pump No Smoking Porcelain Plate Sign Service Station Garage Shop DisplayL&m Tobacco Large Metal Advertising SignTobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, Lucky Charm, Occult, Star Signs, 1923American Spirit Cigarette Metal SignKing Edward Cigars Sign! Nos! Mint! Heavy Duty! Pipe, CigarVintage Antique Camel Cigarettes Metal Display Advertising SignVintage Marathon Porcelain Oil And Gas Well And Lease Sign,no SmokingNo Smoking Oil Gas Porcelain Flange Sign Signal Oil1999 Winston Cigarette No Bull No Additives Working Neon Lighted Sign Two SidedPhillip Morris Cigarette Ad Sign In Home Made Frame Very OldIndian Chief El Bubble Gum Cigar Candy Store Advertising Sign Glass Paperweight Very Rare Vintage Metal Porcelain Enamel Sign. No SmokingVintage Tin Sign Kool Cigarettes "discover Extra Coolness" Filter Kings