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    

Exceedingly Rare 1910's John B Stetson Tobacco Pocket Tin Can Binghamton Ny SignVintage C.1940 Winchester Cigarettes Tobacco 30" Metal Porcelain SignOld Piedmont Tobacco Porcelain Advertising Sign Cigarette Shop Chair Original1930's Porcelain Mail Pouch Tobacco Sign. Large 36" X 11"Rare Original 1930s Odin Cigar Embossed Metal SignVintage 1930's Model Leader Pipe Cigarette Tobacco 20" Metal SignVintage Original 50's Chesterfield Cigarettes 2 Sided Flange Sign Not PorcelainEye Catching Vintage Viceroy Cigarettes Tin Advertising Sign Ava Gardner ActressVintage C.1960 Cash Value Chewing Tobacco 21" Metal Sign~niceVintage C.1960 Camel Cigarettes Tobacco 32" Metal Sign~niceVintage 1950's Chesterfield Cigarettes Tobacco 23" Embossed Metal SignCa1890 Old Virginia Cheroots / Cigars Chromolithograph Advertising SignAntique Players Please Cigarette Sign Striker Plate Advertising PicobacCa1880 "gold Nugget" Tobacco Chromo Advertising Sign / Large Crate LabelCa1880 "oneida" Tobacco Chromo Advertising Sign / Large Crate Label IndianVintage C.1940 Craven"a" Cigarettes Tobacco 23" Metal Porcelain SignOld Enamel Garage Sign Plaque Emaillee Ajja Tabac Pipe Tobacco Vintage AdvertVintage Player's Please Enamel / Tin Sign Advertising Tobacco Navy CutVintage Kool Cigarettes Thermometer Sign Pack Tobacco Cigar Tobacciana Cigarette1910's Saeger Monogram Cigars Chromolithograph Advertising Sign Hanger1910s Tin Lithograph James Lewis Cigars Advertising Sign Hanger Brushed AluminumVintage 1960's Viceroy Cigarettes Tobacco 26" Metal SignVintage, Original 1940s Philip Morris Cardboard Cigarette Sign Early * 1920s Vintage Smoke Caton Quality Cigar Old Door Push Strip Tin Sign1910's Saeger Single Binder Cigars Chromolithograph Advertising Sign HangerVintage Original Model Smoking Tobacco Advertising Antique Tin Sign1920's Herco 5 Cent Cigars Double Sided Advertising Sign / Fan Or Shade PullGraphic Near Mint 1920s Vintage Big John Plug Tobacco Old Country Store SignOld Enamel Sign Advert Box Qc Queen's Council Cigars Cigar Shop Display VintageVintage. Primitive. Old Virginia Cheroots Cigar 3 For 5cents. Metal Sign. Rare!!Vintage Phillies Americas No 1 Cigar Embossed Metal Sign By Donaldson Art Co Ky Vintage/antique Wooden No Smoking Sign1930s Marvels Cigarette Tin Door Push Sign,nos,unused Original,nice Color,16x2.5Camel "have A Real Cigarette" Thermometer SignVintage Rare R.g. Sullivan's Porcelain Advertising Cigar Sign 7-20-4 Tobacco OldPorcelain Advertising Sign Sun Cured Red Coon Chewing Tobacco Store Sign1950's Embossed Tin Lithograph "virginia Cigarettes" Advertising SignVintage 1974 Napoleon Cigar 10c Metal Tobacco Sign W/napoleon Figure.Vintage Embossed Camel Tobacco Metal Sign - Where A Man Belongs - C1982Old Adamas Cigarettes Porcelain Sign, 24" Large Tobacco Advertising Enamel Vintage Buffalo Cigarettes Die-cut Cardboard Store SignCopenhagen Tobacco Glass Mirror Framed Sign High Quality 1970s Beech-nut Tobacco Enamel Porcelain Advertising Sign ReproRed Man Tobacco SignSturgis Bike Week Motorcycle Cigar Hog Biker On Skull Bike Metal Sign Decor NewCopenhagen Tobacco Sign1890's James Scott Tobacco Chromolithograph Advertising Sign Hanger / Fan PullVintage Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco Die-cut Cardboard Store SignVintage Viceroy King Size Cigarettes Metal Sign2 C1925-1930 "number 3 Cigars" Advertising Signs,youngstown, Ohio,nrGurkha Cigar Cellar Reserve Metal Advertising Sign No Reserve! Lot DVintage Old Coon Cigar SignSan Bernardino Ca Third Street Scene St Charles Hotel Cigar Sign Postcard Ca1908Us Sign Natural Gum 5 Packs 110mm Cigarette Smoking Rolling Papers Extra ThinCamel Turkish Gold Lighted Sign Cigarette Tobacco Advertising Bar Man Cave WallVtg Skoal Chewing Tobacco Display Rack Gas Service Station Counter Sign Stand Vibtage Reproduction Porcelain Skelly Sign No Smoking In Hanger AreaPolar Bear Tobacco Cardboard Poster Sign 11" X 25"Vintage Original Camel Cigarette Sign - RareAntique No Smoking Sign Factory Industrial Metal Gas Oil Garage New York City Ny