31 May – World No Tobacco Day: A Look Back…

31 May – World No Tobacco Day: A Look Back…

Published date: 31 May 2018

The 31 May 2018 marks the 32nd annual “World No Tobacco Day” – a day dedicated to raising awareness of the risks of tobacco use, and encouraging governments and regulatory bodies to ensure that tobacco use is presented to consumers honestly and responsibly. 

To mark ”World No Tobacco Day”, we’re taking a look at the ways cigarette advertising has changed over the past century…

Where It All Began…

Smoking tobacco has been part of human culture for centuries – having been part of religious rituals as long ago as 5000BC. However, the kind of cigarettes we recognise today weren’t introduced until 1830.

Selling cigarettes

Although the roots of tobacco use lie deep in our history, the earliest evidence of cigarette smoking came in the early 1900s.  In the 100 years following their introduction, the ways in which cigarettes have been marketed has changed dramatically. We’ve taken a look at some of the more surprising phases of cigarette advertising history.

1914 -– The War

The earliest  advertisements for cigarettes are associated with the initiation of the First World War. Posters, which were often printed on metal sheets, used images of uniformed men to glorify the practice of smoking. But it wasn’t just those at home who were affected. Cigarettes were even included in army rations for those who found comfort in the psychological effects of smoking whilst on service.


Chesterfield Ad, 1917; Helmar Ad, 1919

1920s-1930s – “It’s better than being fat!”

Despite the surge in male smoking during the First World War,  cigarettes weren’t actively advertised to women until the following decade. In this era of marketing, cigarettes were presented as an alternative to food – encouraging people to use cigarettes as a form of dieting.


Lucky Strike Ad Campaign – 1929; 1931

1930s-1940s – “It’s good for your health!” 

In the 1930’s, a lack of advertising standards – and minimal understanding of the health risks we know today – meant that cigarette companies could use doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals to help sell their products. They were particularly keen to push the message that smoking their cigarettes would not cause symptoms such as a cough or sore throat,  often associated with the practice.


Camels Ad, 1931; Camels campaign, 1940-1949

1950s – “It’ll make you a better mother”

By the 1950s it was fairly common knowledge that it was a bad idea to smoke whilst pregnant, so most expectant mothers tried to cut down. When their babies were born, however, there was little stopping them from restarting the habit. One particular campaign focused on the everyday stress of being a mum, and smoking’s ability to relieve it.


Marlboro Ad Campaign, 1951

1960s-1970s– “It’s Sexy!”

Prior to the British government’s ban on tobacco advertising in 2002,  cigarette advertising took another turn. This time, advertisements employed sexualised images to convince their young male audience that their product was a way to attract women.


Tipalet Ad, 1969; Winchester Ad, 1973

1980s-1990s – “It’ll make you cool…”

The next (and final) era of cigarette advertising took a different angle, giving certain brands  the “cool” factor. For Camel, this meant the introduction of “Joe Camel”, a sophisticated patron for their cigarettes who caused quite a stir when activists argued that he steered the firm’s advertisements towards children.


Camel Ad, 1988; 1990

What’s next?

The UK government banned all tobacco advertising  in 2002 and two years later, Ireland became the first nation to become smoke-free in public places, followed by Scotland and England in 2007 – but it isn’t just the law that has changed…

Cigarettes have gone from being marketed as beneficial to health to being recognised as potentially harmful in a few short decades. Combine this with the ban on tobacco advertising, and large tobacco companies have no choice but to innovate. In the 1970s, around 50% of the UK population smoked. Yet, by 2017, this had already fallen below 15%. To reflect this change in tobacco use, one cigarette manufacturer, Phillip Morris, introduced an entirely new initiative in 2018 – to give up selling cigarettes altogether and focus on safer alternatives and supporting those who choose to quit.

If the one of biggest cigarette  manufacturers in the world is vowing to stop  manufacturing cigarettes, it raises the question – what will the next 100 years bring for the tobacco industry?


Melissa Davy, 2005. Time and generational trends in smoking among men and women in Great Britain, 1972–2004/05. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/hsq/health-statistics-quarterly/no--32--winter-2006/time-and-generational-cohort-trends-in-smoking-among-men-and-women-in-great-britain--1972-2004-05.pdf

ASD, Key Dates in the History of Anti-Tobacco Campaigning. 2017. Available from:

The Independent. The Timeline of Tobacco. 2017. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/the-timeline-tobacco-2181071.html

World Health Organization,. World No Tobacco Day 2017 – Beating Tobacco for Health, Prosperity, the Environment and National Development. 2017. Available from: http://www.who.int/en/news-room/detail/30-05-2017-world-no-tobacco-day-2017-beating-tobacco-for-health-prosperity-the-environment-and-national-development

Cancer.org. World No Tobacco Day. 2018. Available from: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-no-tobacco-day.html

The Daily Mail, 2018. Phillip Morris is Trying to Give Up Cigarettes. Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-5233401/Philip-Morris-trying-cigarettes-2018.html

The Purple Agency healthcare team works with many of the world’s leading  pharmaceutical companies. Over the last 10  years, we are proud to have localised content and created campaigns that help our  clients raise awareness of diseases, communicate therapy options to clinicians and give them the information and resources they need to help them improve outcomes for their patients.