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Many anti-tobacco advocates and tobacco-remedy advertisements in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries identified nicotine as the cause of addiction.  One way that tobacco companies got around the negative publicity was to market tobacco products that were allegedly safe from the feared health hazards.

A news brief in the June 23, 1883 issue of Harper’s Weekly reported the recommendation of Sir Henry Thompson, a British physician, for using a cigarette holder with a cotton-wool filter in order to lessen the intake of harmful substances while inhaling tobacco.  The idea fell largely on deaf ears at the time, but can be considered a prototype of the cotton filter introduced by Parliament cigarettes in 1931.  One person who did heed the advice was Dr. George A. Scott, an Englishman who received American patents for several electric gadgets, which were widely advertised in Harper’s Weekly and other publications.  His electric hairbrushes, corsets, hats, body belts, and other appliances were marketed, in the style of nineteenth-century quackery, as cure-alls for rheumatism, malaria, constipation, and a wide range of major and minor diseases.  An ad in the January 15, 1887 issue of Harper’s Weekly introduced “Dr. Scott’s Electric Cigarettes,” which supposedly lit without a match.  In bold print, the text declared that “No Nicotine” could be absorbed by the smoker because of a cotton filter. (The illustration does look like a modern filtered cigarette.)

In the March 31, 1906 issue, a Boston firm selling Russian cigarettes tried to entice upscale customers by flattering them as an elite set.  Cutting and mailing in the request and payment for Makaroff cigarettes were compared to cutting interest coupons on financial investments.  Knowing that Russian cigarettes were the best gave customers entrée to the experience of sophisticated Europeans.  The designs of the ad and cigarette had an exotic look to attract connoisseurs.  Yet for all the appeal to class bias and worldly pleasure, the ad mentioned that the cigarettes were made with a filter (“mouthpiece”).  It “takes up nearly all of the nicotine,” which can “poison your system by direct absorption…”  Given the fear of cigarettes adulterated with narcotics, the ad emphasized that they were “made of real tobacco…”

An article in the May 26, 1906 issue of Harper’s Weekly, “What Happens When You Smoke,” explained the health dangers of tobacco.  It also discussed a new filtering system, which the author expected would lessen, but not eliminate, the harmful effects of smoking.  However, it was not until the 1930s that two major brands, Parliament and Viceroy, introduced cigarettes with filters (made of cotton and cellulose acetate, respectively); they obtained only two percent of the market through the 1940s.  With the increasing number of scientific reports connecting tobacco use with cancer, tobacco companies began a concerted effort in the 1950s to develop an allegedly safer cigarette, so that by 1960 half of the cigarettes manufactured in the United States had filters.  The emphasis in cigarette advertising, though, was on taste, not health.  By 1979, filter cigarettes made up 90% of sales.  Despite the product development, filters provide little health benefit for addicted smokers.

Harper's Weekly References
1)  June 23, 1883, p. 387, c. 3
news item, filter urged for cigarettes

2)  January 15, 1887, p. 48, c. 1-2
illustrated ad for filtered cigarettes, which allegedly prevent nicotine inhalation

3)  May 26, 1906, pp. 751 and 753
news story, “What Happens When You Smoke,” explains the health dangers, and discusses new filtering system that supposedly makes it less unhealthy, but not totally so

4)  March 31, 1906, p. 455, c. 3
illustrated ad for Russian cigarets [sic] that allegedly prevent users from taking in tobacco’s poisons

Sources Consulted
“Dr. Scott’s Quack Electric Devices,” American Artifacts:  Scientific Medical & Mechanical Antiques,

Parker-Pope, Tara, “‘Safer’ Cigarettes:  A History,” from “Search for a ‘Safe’ Cigarette,” Nova, Public Broadcasting Service,

Slade, John, M.D., “Tobacco Epidemic: Historical Lessons,”


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