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Smokes for the Boys

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On this date in 1917, the Hope Pioneer ran picture of a check on the front page. The check was in the amount of $21.25. It was made out to the American Tobacco Company. The headline asked, “Do You Have an Interest in This Check?” The check, said the newspaper, meant “comfort for the boys in France.” The rather modest sum represented 85 smoking kits.

Cigarettes, pipes, and smoking paraphernalia were the most requested comfort items. One British soldier said his men could endure anything if they had tobacco. He said some men were reduced to smoking tea, brown paper, and leaves of trees. Nurses routinely offered cigarettes to wounded and sick men in hospitals. Cigarettes became part of a soldier’s standard rations.

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Smoking became an iconic image of World War I. It gave soldiers a sense of camaraderie, even if they didn’t speak the same language. It was considered the height of kindness to offer a cigarette to a wounded enemy soldier. Pipes began to fall out of favor. German soldiers were known for their elaborate ceramic pipes decorated with the regimental insignia. But they were fragile and easily broken. It was easier to light a cigarette than pack and light a pipe, and it was easier to send packs of cigarettes to the boys at the front.

There had been efforts to ban tobacco use prior to the war. Organizations like the Red Cross and the YMCA had supported a ban, but during the war those organizations changed their tune, providing the troops with cigarettes. It was a way to offer some measure of comfort to soldiers far from home.

During the war, there was a noticeable increase in smoking among soldiers of all nationalities. Tobacco companies took advantage of this marketing windfall. Bull Durham sold its entire production to the US War Department. Tobacco companies geared advertising towards civilians, encouraging them to buy cigarettes and send them to “the boys.” After the war, cigarette smoking was widely accepted as it was associated with the soldiers who fought for their country.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Hope Pioneer. “Do You Have an Interest in This Check?” Hope ND. 11/15/1917. Page 1.

Smoking Jacket Magazine. “Smokes for the Boys.” https://smokingjacketmagazine.com/2014/11/11/smokes-for-the-boys-a-history-of-smoking-and-the-military/   Accessed 10/14/2019.

The Road to the Great War. “Cigarettes for Soldiers.” https://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.com/2013/09/cigarettes-for-soldiers-how-tobacco-and.html  Accessed 10/14/2019. 

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