Tobacco leaves have been the source of a buzz or a subtle rush for thousands of years. Along with nicotine, tobacco in cigarettes has provided an addictive pleasure that many governments around the world have taxed heavily to make it an expensive pastime. Cigars and at one-time snuff was popular, though the last couple of decades has seen the popularisation of vaping, without some of the problems created by nicotine.

 

The Decline of Smoking

Only a few decades ago when it seemed that most people smoked, it was fashionable to be seen with a cigarette. In fact, stars of the sport of screen endorsed the product. Women who smoked were looked upon as chic. Tobacco companies paid stars thousands of dollars – as well as a year’s supply of cigarettes – to promote their products on and off-screen. A report published in the journal Tobacco Control in 2008 reveals how Hollywood stars made millions promoting tobacco. In 1937-8, actors including Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Spencer Tracy, were each paid $10,000 (the equivalent to $146,000, or £80,000, in today’s money) by American Tobacco to promote its Lucky Strike brand. That year, the cigarette company paid film stars $218,750 – more than $3m at today’s prices. Almost 200 stars, including two-thirds of the top box-office actors of the late 1930s and 1940s, were contracted to tobacco companies.

By the early 1950s, the tobacco industry switched its attention to the TV. But by 1980, smoking on screen was making a comeback, despite increased knowledge of the dangers to health. Around that time ‘The Marlboro Man’ could be seen on billboards across America and in most parts of the world between 1954 and 1999. The image created by Marlboro of the white, adventuresome cowboy, alone on the frontier, was cultivated by 19th Century Wild West Shows. Before this campaign, Marlboro was considered a “women’s” smoke. Within a year of Marlboro Man’s debut, the company went from holding only a one percent market share to being the fourth bestselling brand in America. America loved Marlboros: Sales hit $5 billion in 1955, an over 3000 percent increase over 1954—the year prior to the Marlboro Man campaign.

Before these popular slogans were “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet,” “More doctors smoke Camels,” and Marlboro’s early “Ivory tip protects your lips.”  The good times for tobacco companies came to an end with restrictions on who and where people could smoke followed by multi-million-dollar lawsuits brought about by families of cancer victims that saw many tobaccos file for bankruptcy.

 

Rising Costs

The sky-high cost of smoking cigarettes publicized health risks and bans on smoking in public places has seen the rise in vaping. The man recognized as the inventor of vaping is a Chinese smoker and pharmacist Hon Lik who introduced what we know as the e-cigarette in 2003. Back in 1927, Joseph Robinson came up with the first “electric vaporizer,” a device he said was for “medicinal compounds.” What was believed to be the first US patent for an “electric vaporizer” was filed by him. Robinson believed his device would it easier to inhale vapors “without any possibility of being burned.” Herbert Gilbert filed a patent for this “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” on April 17. 1963 and Jed Rose, who invented the first nicotine patch, experimented with “distilled smoke” in his laboratory at UCLA in the 1980s.

Lik was a heavy smoker who used up to three packs of cigarettes a day. He was determined to invent a new device after his own father, who was also a smoker, died of lung cancer. “I believed that if I could use vapor to simulate cigarette smoke, this could help me,” Lik, who now smokes cigarettes and vapes commented.

There is evidence that e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking if they’re part of a larger cessation program and receive support and counseling. The British government’s medical service the NHS wrote: “A major UK clinical trial published in 2019 found that, when combined with expert face-to-face support, people who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking were twice as likely to succeed as people who used other nicotine replacement products, such as patches or gum. You will not get the full benefit from vaping unless you stop smoking cigarettes completely. You can get advice from a specialist vape shop or your local stop smoking service.

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.