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    

Vintage 1994 Smoking Joe Camel & Salem Double Sided Lighted Sign 49" Vintage 1930's Copenhagen Snuff Chewing Tobacco Gas Station 18" Metal SignVintage 1940's Beech-nut Chewing Tobacco Gas Station 22" Metal SignMarvels Cigarettes Tin Thermometer Advertising Sign - 12" X 4" - Very Nice!Vintage Old Gold Cigarettes 5' Canvas Tobacco Sign Lorillard ExcellentLarge Rare Vintage 1930's Spud Cigarette Tobacco Gas Oil 32" Sign W/puppy DogVintage C.1915 Fatima Cigarettes Gas Oil 27" Porcelain Metal Thermometer Sign1930's~big Ben Smoking Tobacco~ Advertising Sign-5 Gaited Horse Jeb StewartR.g. Sullivan Dexter Cigar Sign. Metal Sullivan's Cigar Advertising Sales Sign. Pre-1966 Nos (new Old Stock) Vintage Original "salem" Cigarette Advertising SignVintage Philip Morris Tobacco Standup Advertising Display Sign Rare!!Vintage 1950's Tops Sweet Snuff Chewing Tobacco Gas Oil 18" Embossed Metal Sign1990 Original Framed Painting Old Joe Camel Cigarette Tobacco Sign AdvertisementOriginal Camel Cigarette Advertising Sign Thermometer Vintage 1950's Tops Scotch Snuff Chewing Tobacco Gas Oil 18" Embossed Metal SignVintage Winston Cigarette Thermometer Metal Advertising SignVintage 1960's Red Man Chewing Tobacco Gas Station 15" Metal Sign W/indianNickel Movement Metal Cigar Sign. Metal Tobacco Cigar Sign . Nickel Cigars SignVintage 1940's Granger 10c Rough Cut Pipe Tobacco 24" Metal SignVintage Big Scarce Black Cat Cigarettes 13" X 13" Porcelain Smoking Tobacco SignBlack Cat Cigarettes They Taste Better Porcelain SignVintage 1940's Granger Rough Cut Pipe Tobacco 24" Metal SignVintage 1940's Mail Pouch Chewing Pipe Tobacco 14" Embossed Metal SignVintage C.1950 Chesterfield Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Oil 34" Embossed Metal SignVintage Collectible Winston Cigarettes Tobacco Sign Working Thermometer Original U.s. Tobacco Company Vintage Copenhagen Embossed Metal Advertising Sign1920s Pay Car Scrap Tobacco Country Store Advertising Sign & Sealed PouchVintage Viceroy Cigarette Tobacco Advertising Open Closed Store Hours Tin Sign Original Vintage L&m Filters Cigarette Tin/metal Embossed Sign Nice Look!!Salem Cigarette Thermometer Sign 1960s Metal Front Cardboard Back WorksVintage Tin Store Advertising Sign Model Tobacco For Pipe Or CigaretteVintage German Wwii Rauchen Verboten! Metal Sign, No Smoking! Vintage "no Smoking Stop Motor While Refueling" SignVintage License Plate Topper Blackshear Ga. Tobacco Center Tag Advertising SignGroup Lot Of Seven Chesterfield "best For You" Cigarette Metal Advertising SignsMarlboro Cigarette Neon Sign 1992 Everbrite Neon 21 X 15 Excellent Condition Vintage 1960's Kool Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Station 30" Metal Sign~niceAntique Cremo Cigars Christmas Advertising Sign $10 No ReserveVintage Advertising Red Dot Cigar SignJoe Camel Cigarettes - Tin Tobacco Store Sign - Thermometer Sign - 1992 VintageBlack And White Wave Cut Cigar Sign. Black And White Tobacco Advertising SignVintage Copenhagen Chewing Tobacco Snuff Metal Embossed Tin Sign Never Hung!Vintage 1940's Chesterfield Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Oil 18" Embossed Metal SignVintage United Cigar Stores 8" X 3.5" Porcelain Door Push Sign Tobacco Cigars NrCigar Store Indian Emblem Polished Brass Lighter (zippo, 1996) Nib UnfiredVintage 1930's El Verso Cigar Tobacco Gas Oil 15" Embossed Metal SignVintage Red Coon Chewing Tobacco 18" X 12" Porcelain Smoking & Chew Sign Gas OilVintage J.p. Alley's Hambone Cigars Porcelain Advertising Sign-black AmericanaVintage Cigarette Rack Signs Winston & Camel Wooden White With Red LettersVintage Embossed 1950's Winston Cigarettes Tin Litho Advertise Thermometer Sign Ca1880 "southdown" Tobacco Chromolithograph Advertising Sign / Large Crate LabelWinston Folding Standing Ashtray Trash Can Sign Tobacco Cigarette Shop StoreKool Cigarettes Tobacco Light Up Store SignCyclone Twister Cigar Cardboard Vintage Sign, M.l. Richards Co, Dallas, TexasVintage Texaco No Smoking Porcelain Sign Gas & Oil Service Station Pump Plate NrRed Coon Chewing Tobacco Porcelain Sign Station Store Display Cigarette Man CaveNat Sherman Cigar Tin Metal Dealer Sign NosUnited Cigar Stores Porcelain Sign Palm PushUnocal 76 No Smoking Garage Sign Service Gas Station Racing GasolineCamel Cigarette Metal Sign