Friday, October 8, 2010
Kids Selling Tobacco
Last March my blog concerned the dubious use of children in order to sell whiskey through trade cards and ads. More recently I have become interested in the frequent use of youngsters, up until a few years ago, to sell tobacco products. The interest was kicked off by a 1890 ad for Mail Pouch chewing tobacco, shown here, that featured a laughing baby in diapers and the double entendre caption, “He just found his mail pouch.”
Perhaps West Virginia’ most famous consumer product -- one whose faded ads can still be found on thousands of barns across rural America -- the company began with brothers Aaron and Samuel Bloch, who ran a small grocery and dry goods store in Wheeling on the Ohio River. They also had a small cigar factory on the second floor. They conceived the idea of flavoring the scrap cuttings that were left over from the cigars and selling them in paper bags as chewing tobacco. Thus an industry was born.
The brothers had excellent marketing sense and built the company to national fame. Aaron was succeeded as president in 1902 by brother Samuel, who in turn passed the company along to his son, Jesse Bloch, in 1937. Jesse’s son, Thomas took over in 1947 until the firm was sold in 1969. Mail Pouch chewing tobacco is still being sold.
By using a baby to advertise their chew tobacco the Blochs were only emulating a wide range of tobacco manufacturers who used the images of children to sell their products. In a blog in June 2009, I related how Richard Outcault, the creator of Buster Brown, franchised several cigar makers to use his child cartoon character in their merchandising. One colorful label showed a man blowing cigar smoke from his ears, to the clear delight of Buster and his dog, Tige.
Subsequently I have found four more cigar makers using kids to flog their products. The most interesting are Nabob Cigars. Their box lid features a pair of boys, one white, one black, both in tattered or ill-fitting clothes. The white lad is smoking a cigar and clearly enjoying the experience. The black youngster seems to be wishing too he had a cigar.
Three other lids feature little girls and were sold under childish names. “Toto” seems to have sprouted butterfly wings. “ Lulu” is an preschooler with a shawl and heavy coat. “Elsie” is hatless and leaning on a well. Neither of the latter two looks particularly happy. Were these the children or perhaps grandchildren of the cigar makers? My research has found no answer.
A happier tobacco-selling tike was featured in a trade card by the G. W. Schreiber Co. of Philadelphia, a dealer in tobacco and “segars.” Why a tike catching an eel in a net should be considered an apt selling point for tobacco products escapes me, other than the general idea that images of children catch the attention of consumers.
These images, however, pale before a 1951 series of ads for Marlboro Cigarettes that ran in a number of national magazines. In them a series of super cute infants relate messages for both Mom and Dad. To Mom, the toddler had a question: “Can you afford not to smoke Marlboro?” And a second baby admonishes: “Before you scold me, Mom, maybe you better light up a Marlboro.” Dad got no questions, just approval for always smoking the infant’s choice.
Given what we know today about the dangers of smoking, these ads, particularly the Marlboro campaign of almost a half-century ago, may seem like something out of the Dark Ages. Today it would be unthinkable to merchandise tobacco using kids. But not so long ago....