Saturday, July 24, 2021

Sepia Saturday: Light Up

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features Marlene Dietrich in a cigarette ad. As a child, I clearly remember the Surgeon General announcing that cancer was directly related to smoking, and I took his warning seriously. Although my parents and all my parents’ friends smoked, I was never tempted, not even in college when girls in my dorm experimented. I suppose it was while my mother was a student at Shenandoah College in Dayton, Virginia, that she and her friends decided it was time to do the adult thing and start smoking.

Momma, Christine Westbrook, and Betsy Ward about 1947
with cigarettes in hand

During summer break, Momma and her roomies wrote back and forth, sometimes weekly. Most of the letters are filled with gossip about who was dating whom, descriptions of weddings and parties they had attended, and playful anger about not getting letters from “that poot Mimi” or Joan or Paul or or or. Often they were planning to get together at Virginia Beach for a “gab fest,” to “sop a few beers” as they said, and of course, to smoke.

As I read the letters, I began to wonder what made people choose one brand over another, so I looked for cigarette ads from about 1948.

In one letter, Peggy Compher added in closing that she had switched from Luckies to Herbert Tareyton.

Luckies I knew, as that had been my uncle’s brand. “Lucky Strike” in 1948 claimed to be the first choice among tobacco men and independent experts. The slogan for as long as I can remember had always been “L. S. M. F. T. - Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.”


Boy, that brought back a memory. In high school, the other kids used to say, “L. S. M. F. T. Loose Straps Mean Floppy T - - - - - -.” (I hate that word – I hope you can figure it out.)


So Peggy gave up that fine tobacco for Herbert Tareyton. This brand featured a cork-tip that prevented the cigarette from sticking to the smoker’s lips. Who knew that was an issue? The Herbert Tareyton slogan “There’s something about them you’ll like” strikes me as ambiguous. I’m sure the “mad men” who developed the campaign meant that the many fine qualities would suit everyone, but I keep thinking the second half of the slogan could have been “but we can’t quite put our finger on what that something is.”


While I had never heard of HERBERT Tareyton, I clearly remember its variation Tareyton and the ads from the 1960s: “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.” Print ads featured people from all walks of life with a black smudge under one eye. Celebrities like Martha Stewart and Lyle Wagoner were pictured in the ads too. But the grammar! “Us” rather than “We” drove grammarians like my mother crazy. However, the campaign worked: there was nobody who hadn’t heard of Tareyton.


My mother was a Pall Mall girl. I don’t know if she smoked anything different before I came along, but until she gave up smoking (was it in the 80s? 90s? I can’t remember) there was always the iconic red cigarette package lying around somewhere. Pall Mall promoted itself as being a LONG cigarette, the length contributing to a better mix of air and smoke ensuring more pleasure and better taste. I do not know all the various ways Pall Mall advertised itself, but this one ad in which the Ritz Carlton claimed to prefer Pall Mall probably spoke to my mother. She was always drawn to the better things in life.

Jeanne Bailey, Momma’s college friend from Connecticut, started her smoking career with Life cigarettes. In 1948, it was the new thing offering a non-mentholated millecel filter, the latest “ultra high filtration” that would surely alleviate any health concerns cigarettes might pose. Here is what Jeanne had to say about Life in October of 1948:

I bought a pack of “Life” cigarettes yesterday. They aren’t bad. If they live up to their advertisement they’ll be okay. “Not too short, not too long, not too thin, just right.” You’d look a long time to find anything that good I think.


In March of 1949, Jeanne was done smoking, for a while at least:


News Flash  - I gave up smoking for Lent – just to test my will power – it’s really testing it!! Right now, I’m dying for a smoke but I’m too stubborn to change my resolve. I chew gum instead. I think I have three hunks in my mouth now.


Oh Jeanne, you are so funny.

Please visit my smokin’ hot friends at Sepia Saturday.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. You were smart to never start the dangerous habit! I tried when I was in my teens, but quit for two main reasons: smoking is not good for singers; and I couldn't handle smoking a cigarette and doing something else at the same time - trying to smoke was getting in the way of things I wanted to do. I think I lasted two or three weeks and that was it - no more smoking!

  2. When my sister and I were in our early teens, my dad sat us down at the kitchen table and made us each smoke a cigarette - I thought I was going to be sick halfway through. That took care of it and I never tried again. My mom smoked for years and one day she just stopped. I don’t remember any drama or discussion - one day she just didn’t smoke anymore.

  3. Excellent notes about early cigarettes being smoked by your parents' generation. I smoked about the time I got divorced, then stopped a few years later. I now have lung diseases and am so sorry I ever smoked, but I was young and not too smart. I hope now that I'm old, I may be learning finally!

  4. You asked an interesting question. What influenced their choice? Advertising? What your friends or someone you admire smokes? I’ve never been a smoker and thankfully, neither were my parents. Something I never gave any thought to.

  5. I laughed out loud at the last letter about chewing three hunks of gum to avoid smoking...must be how Nicorettes got the idea. The worst cigarette marketing campaign was for More cigarettes to try to rope 1960s women into the addictive habit. In junior high, my friends and I dabbled with smoking -- mostly as a form of rebellion, which I wrote about here Fortunately, I never took it up, although who knows how much second hand smoke we were all exposed to before the current no-smoking laws were established?

  6. Another splendid post, Wendy. My grandfather was a chain smoker from probably age 16 when he joined the Marines. His brand was Camel cigarettes, and I can still remember the sickly aroma of tobacco which filled my grandparent's home. He was asthmatic and yet went through a pack a day. Even though he quit in his early sixties he sadly died a few years later from emphysema. My mother suffered from lung problems too that I'm sure were caused by living in a smoker's household. Those advertisements were selling pure evil.

    When I was 13 I tried smoking after I discovered in the house an old USO Christmas stocking that my dad had saved from years before. It included a small sample packet of Salem menthol cigarettes which were perfect for teaching someone just how disgusting smoking could be. Even today I shudder whenever I accidently smell or taste minty flavored things.