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    

Old Enamel Sign - Vintage Shop Advert Player's Navy Cut Cigarettes Tin PacketEarly Player Navy Cut Cigarette Tobacco Pack Enamel Sign C1915 - OlneyOld Enamel Sign - Vintage Shop Advert Ogden's Guinea Gold Cigarette PacketRare 1800s Early 1900s Big Schooner Neudecker Tobacco Co. Tin Ship Cigar SignVintage 1950's Camels Camel Cigarettes Tobacco 20" Metal Sign~nice ConditionOld Enamel Sign - Vintage Shop Advert Wills Capstan Cigarettes Packet TobaccoOld Hi-plane 10 Cent Tobacco Sign Embossed 1950sVintage Zig-zag Cigarettes Rolling Paper Tobacco Gas Station 20" Metal SignVintage C.1950 De Nobili Palm 3 For 5c Cigar Tobacco 19" Embossed Metal Sign Plane Scrap Pure Clean Cigar Pipe Tobacco Porcelain Metal Sign General Store Nos 1950s Vintage Unused Near Mint Mail Pouch Tobacco Old Embossed Tin SignVintage**rare** Pair Of 1930's Peter Schuyler Cigar Tobacco Porcelain SignVintage Antique Phillies Cigar Country Store Advertising Tin Sign EmbossedOriginal 1907-1930's Helmar Turkish Cigarettes Cobalt Blue Porcelain Sign 36x12Vintage 1950's Camel Cigarette Metal Advertising Thermometer Advertising SignVintage 1950's Cash Value Chewing Tobacco Gas Station 21" Metal SignNear Mint 1950s Vintage Ocb Cigarette Rolling Papers Old Tin Store Display SignOld Gold Cigarettes Sign Embossed 1950sOld Metal Sign Advertising Navy Sweet Snuff TobaccoNice 1950's Coca Cola Thermometer Sign Cigar Type Works Right Complete OriginalVintage Culture Pipe Tobacco Display Motion Light Hunting Scene SignVintage 1950's Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco 13" Bag Sack Purse Sign~neatWooden Cigar Store Indian Statue Hand Carved 4ftRare Copenhagen Tobacco Advertising Sign Vintage Lighted Indy Race Car 31" Marlboro Advertising Tobacco Sign - Works!!!!Vintage 1950's Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco 39" Metal Thermometer Sign~worksNice Old Camel Cigarettes Flange Sign 1960s1949 Coca Cola Thermometer Sign Cigar Type Works And OriginalVintage Antique Salem Tobacco Cigarette Tin Metal Non Porcelain Thermometer SignYellow Version Peter Schuyler Cigar Porcelain Sign 36” Country Drug Store SmokeVintage 1950's Camels Camel Cigarettes Tobacco Gas Station 20" Metal Sign~niceVintage Camel Cigarettes Store Display Sign Metal Tin Green Tobacciana (rx 8)Nice Old Soldier Boy Tobacco Sign Not PorcelainVintage Timber Wolf Chewing Tobacco Snuff 17" Embossed Metal Sign~niceTexaco Oil No Smoking Porcelain Metal Sign Car Truck Gas Station Decor Subway Very Nice * 1961 Vintage L&m Cigarette Old Gas Station Embossed Tin SignRare Vintage Antique Camel Camels Cigarette Door Push Metal Gas Station SignKodiak Chewing Tobacco Tin Sign (2 Tin Lot) - Grizzly Skoal Copenhagen Chew BearSinclair Porcelain Enamel No Smoking Gas Station Pump Oil Garage Metal SignVintage Winston Cigarettes Embossed Metal Advertising Thermometer SignVtg - Skoal Tin Sign Chewing Tobacco (6 Sign/tin Lot) - Copenhagen - 80s 90sVintage Red Kamel Cigarettes Tobacco 2 Sided 14" Metal Flange Sign W/camel~niceVintage Swisher Sweets Cigar Tobacco 24" Embossed Metal Sign~nice ConditionNice Old Chesterfield Cigarettes Sign Embossed 1960sVintage Cigar SignVtg - Marlboro Cigarette Tobacco Tin Sign - 16"x24" - Marlboro Man Camel WinstonAntique Photo - Cigar Store Indian - Charles T. Mallo, Three Rivers, MiVintage 1960's Yankee Girl Chewing Tobacco Gas Station 14" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1960's Red Devil's Zippo Lighter Flints Cigarette Cigar Tobacco 11" SignVintage Copenhagen Snuff Chewing Tobacco Gas Station 23" Embossed Metal SignBlacksmith Shop Wagon Repair Brotherhood Tobacco Sign Rppc Postcard Azo 1904-18Vintage 1960's Come In! Viceroy Cigarettes Tobacco 26" Metal SignPhillips 66 No Smoking Porcelain Enamel Sign Gas Pump Vintage Motor Oil GasolineVintage Camel Cigarettes Metal Advertising Thermometer SignCamel Cigarettes 1950's Vintage Advertising Sign Thermometer TobaccoVintage Copenhagen Chewing Tobacco 24" Metal Sign~niceVintage Cigar SignVtg Levi Garrett Chewing Tobacco 2 Sign Lot - Skoal Copenhagen Bandit Tin ChewMail Pouch Tobacco Sign Embossed Metal Large 21" Original Aaa Ohio NosLucky Strike Cigarette Sign Tobacco Cigar Usa Made Camel Ww2 Style