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Easy Availability of Tobacco // Health Concerns // Tobacco Regulation
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The majority of the cartoons in Harper’s Weekly showing boys (never girls) smoking were concentrated in the journal’s first three years of publication (1857-1859).  Those and most of the later cartoons presented middle- or upper-class boys smoking in imitation of men, as a sign of maturity and sophistication; or, depicted street urchins whose poverty forced them prematurely into the adult role of providing for themselves.  A cartoon from the November 21, 1857 issue looked at how the economic panic of 1857 adversely affected the ability of two boys of the street from finding adequate cigar stubs.  Through the 1870s, the underage smokers’ methods of choice were considered to be the same as those of adult men:  the cigar or pipe.  The fact that boys did smoke, and that tobacco was widely available to them, was taken for granted.  An early cartoon from the June 6, 1857 issue encapsulated the themes of 1) the commonness of boys smoking; 2) their mimicry of mature manhood; and 3) their (perceived) preference for cigars or pipes.

In a discussion of the continuing debate over the pros and cons of tobacco, the author of the “Home and Foreign Gossip” column in the October 12, 1872 issue conceded that “Not even the frequent sight of cigar or pipe in the mouth of boys not yet in their teens can suggest anything new…”  Such a resigned attitude differed from the sharp criticism leveled a decade later by the editor of Harper’s Weekly, George William Curtis, against the ease with which cigarettes allowed boys to begin smoking.  In his editorial of September 9, 1882, “Our Fortunate Boys,” Curtis wrote how twenty years before boys took up smoking “with the greatest difficulty” because they had to adapt to the strong tobacco in cigars and pipes.  In contrast, for underage smokers in 1882, “[t]he path of smoking is made plain and easy by means of the cheap and gentle cigarette.”  The editor suggested sarcastically that because whiskey (like strong tobacco) was distasteful at first, the development of “whiskeyettes” might ease acquisition of the drinking habit.

Cigarettes had been hand-rolled at first, but they began to be manufactured in the United States in 1864.  They were more convenient than pipes and cigars, which had to be relit often.  Cigarettes were also cheaper, initially being sold individually, two cigarettes for a penny, which meant that any lad with a bit of change could buy them.  The price was reduced further in the mid-1870s when Lewis Ginter, of the Allen & Ginter tobacco-manufacturing firm in Richmond, Virginia, substituted domestic tobacco for the more expensive foreign type previously used in cigarettes.  In 1875, John Allen, Ginter’s partner, developed the cigarette packet, which was so innovative that it was displayed the next year at the U.S. Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.  The packs allowed easier branding of cigarettes, so numerous imitators of Ginter & Allen’s “Richmond Gems” quickly entered the market.

Pieces of cardboard were soon placed in the soft paper packs to prevent product damage.  Lewis Ginter is credited with the marketing ploy of placing cards in the packs with pictures of baseball players, boxers, Civil War heroes, and other public figures popular with boys (and pictures of actresses for men, as well).  Bull Durham, the leading cigarette brand of the period, included coupons for dime novels, which were read enthusiastically by children.  The application in the 1880s of mass production methods to cigarette manufacturing cut costs further and aided wider distribution.  Cigarette manufacturers also sometimes gave free samples to children and teens.  In 1891, officials at a Southern military prep school thanked the American Tobacco Company for its donation of free cigarettes to the cadets.  However, a similar gift in 1910 from a cigarette company in California to Sacramento households provoked parental objections.

Harper's Weekly References
1)  November 21, 1857, p. 752, c. 4
cartoon, two street urchins smoking

2)  June 6, 1857, p. 368, c. 2-3, cartoon
“The Great Tobacco Question,” cigar vs. pipe

3)  October 12, 1872, p. 795, c. 3
“Home and Foreign Gossip” column, urges tobacco users not to smoke in enclosed public places

4)  September 9, 1882, p. 563, c. 2
editorial (Curtis), “Our Fortunate Boys,” sarcastic criticism of ease with which cigarettes allow boys to begin smoking

Sources Consulted
“History of Cigarette Advertising,” University of Colorado Health Sciences Center,

Jeffords, Christine, “Dime Novels:  The Popular Paperback of the Nineteenth Century,”

“Major Lewis Ginter,”

Tate, Cassandra, Cigarette Wars:  The Triumph of the Little White Slaver (NY:  Oxford UP, 1999)


Other sections found within "Young Smokers":
Easy Availability of Tobacco // Health Concerns // Tobacco Regulation
>> Coffin Nails Homepage & Introduction





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