Course:HIST104/2011 Group A - Marlboro

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Transculturation of Tobacco and Marlboro Cigarettes


Ever since tobacco was first cultivated by natives of central America, this desirable commodity has undergone several transformations in society. Originally viewed as a mystical substance by tribes of the Americas, it eventually gained popularity among Europeans for its supposed medical properties and social benefits. In the 1850's entrepreneurs such as Philip Morris, the founder of Marlboro cigarettes, gained hold of this dangerously addictive product and began to market cigarettes as a glamorous lifestyle brand. Marlboro cigarettes transformed the face of cigarette smoking through advertising and marketing and continued to promote smoking as a healthy activity even after smoking gained notoriety for being linked to cancer.

Origins of Tobacco and its Use by Amerindians

Although Europeans were not introduced to tobacco until the late fifteenth century when Columbus was presented dried tobacco leaves by natives in Cuba, it was being cultivated by Amerindians from as early as 5000 BC (Musk and De Clerk, 2003). The tobacco plant is thought to have originated in the high Andes near Ecuador and Peru (Wexler, 2006) and belong to the genus Nicotiana. Of the more than 60 species that belong to Nicotiana, only 2 have ever been cultivated, Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustica (Collings et al, 1977). At the time of Amerindian cultivation, tobacco leaves were cured by sun, air and fire to produce a dark, bitter tobacco that was then snuffed or put in cigars. It was not until much later on, that a synthetic curing technique was used to produce the light tobacco that is used in modern day cigarettes (Goodman, 1993).

Amerindians placed extremely high value on tobacco. It was considered to hold mystical powers that unlocked the deepest corners of the human mind and also possess the healing powers to cure sickness. Tobacco was usually grown in elaborate gardens, seperate from other crops, to represent its value to communities and was often used as currency during trades (Wexler, 2006). From ancient artefacts found in Mexico, it is apparent that the most common form of tobacco ingestion was snuffing, most likely because it gave the most immediate and pronounced effects (Musk and De Clerk, 2003). Tobacco was viewed as a hallucinogen and was often mixed with other sacred hallucogenic plants and snuffed during religious ceremonies to give the individual a sense of spiritual connection with their Creator (Goodman 1993). According to early reports, natives also held shamanistic practices in which they snuffed tobacco so that they “might see imaginary things and fantasies which it revealed to them" (Collings et al, 1977).

Along with the belief that tobacco was a way of communicating with their Creator, Amerindians were also convinced that tobacco possessed certain healing powers that could cure or prevent sickness (Musk and De Clerk, 2003). Tobacco was commonly chewed to provide anasthetic effects for decaying teeth and was also spread over the body to prevent invasion by parasites (Musk and De Clerk, 2003). It was this popular notion that tobacco was medicinal that caught the attention of European physicans, who demanded tobacco to give to their patients as medicine.

Growing Demand For Tobacco Around The World

In Europe, tobacco quickly gained popularity among physicians as the panacea of all panaceas and as well as with the public as energizers and appetite appeasers. Almost immediately traders realized they needed to produce their own tobacco to keep up with European demands. It was found to be economically feasible to produce tobacco in the New World because of sufficient land and natural resources. From there, it could be traded to the European state it was subjected to. African slaves were the prime cultivators, which contributed to the cheap cultivation of tobacco. This commodity heavily influenced the economies of both sides as tobacco (among other items) accounted for 74% and 85% of imports to Amsterdam and London (Shammas, Pg 60, Para 4).

At first elitists attempted to discourage the consumption of tobacco products as they were dismissed as “trivial”(Shammas, Pg 60, Para 5). Thus, merchants began to secure their place in the market by forming alliances with consumers. However, once the elitists saw the enormous revenues that were collected from the duties they quickly changed their tune and began to encourage shipments which created the trade system called the plantation complex (Shammas, Pg 60, Para 5). It was characterized by having imports from overseas colonies available for sale in the home world which was met with tariffs allowing the government to have more funds.

By the 19th century tobacco was gaining immense popularity. This was attributed to British officers who were seen smoking upon returning from the Crimean War (Doll, Pg 291, Para 4). By the beginning of the century cigarettes had replaced cigars as the commodity to smoke. Global demand increased rapidly after World War I and by the end of World War II cigarettes had replaced all tobacco products.

A Brief History of Phillip Morris and Marlboro Cigarettes

The beginning of Philip Morris (the company), producer of Marlboro cigarettes, can be traced back to one small shop in London in 1846 (Phillip Morris, 2011). A young entrepreneur named Philip Morris set up business on Bond Street and sold tobacco and ready-made cigarettes. Within a couple decades, the business had grown into a small enterprise called Philip Morris Co., Ltd and it was transplanted to New York City, where it would eventually become the number one tobacco company in the world (Flaherty and Minnick, 2000). The company first targeted females as their prime audience, by advertising a brand called Marlboro cigarettes that carried the slogan ‘Marlboro- Mild as May’ (Flaherty and Minnick, 2000). However, it was quickly recognized that this strategy was not going to win over the masses.

In 1955, Philip Morris USA began a new era in cigarette marketing that would sweep the nation, and the world for that matter, off its feet. The illusion of cigarettes was transformed with the re-invention of Marlboro cigarettes through the debut of the ‘Marlboro Man’ advertising campaign (Brown et al, 2006). Somehow overcoming the health controversies that now surrounded smoking, Marlboro remade the image of the cigarette into a rugged, masculine commodity. Smoking became an even bigger phenomenon under the influence of Marlboro and was widely accepted by society as being the cool thing to do. By 1983 Phillip Morris USA launched into the forefront becoming the largest cigarette company in the country. As of 2005, the 50th anniversary of the ‘Marlboro Man’, the company still holds over 40% of the US cigarette market share (Brown A, et al, 2006), perpetuating the icon’s infinite hold on the nation.

The Advertising and Marketing of Marlboro Cigarettes

At the time that Phillip Morris was re-launching Marlboro in the 1950's, American society believed that filter cigarettes safeguarded against lung cancer. Yet as they were ‘safer’, filter cigarettes were seen as a “woman’s smoke”. Although men would not smoke the cigarettes designed for the ‘delicate sex’, women were presumed to want to follow the men in their opinions and product choices (Bradley, 2010). Consequently, Marlboro began to produce filter cigarettes accompanied with images of ultra-masculine American ideals, such as cowboys. This advertising campaign was referred to as the "Marlboro Man". By addressing these cultural pre-conceptions (in the 1950’s), the Marlboro company succeeded in meeting the demands of all sides of the potential market.

Today, Marlboro advertises world wide – however, in doing so, the company has modified their marketing strategy to meet the desires of an international clientele. For example, in Germany and the Netherlands, people would not be able to identify with the Marlboro man, the cowboy, in the same way that Americans would; it simply is not in the historical collective conscience neither of Germany, nor the Netherlands. However, these countries do have a special pre-conceived notion of America. Compared to European countries, America is still very new; it is seen as the frontier of possibilities and opportunity. Marlboro thereby markets the idea of ‘America’ itself with their slogan “Come to Marlboro country”, causing European customers to associate the sensation of smoking with their wonderful idea of America. This is even reinforced in their 2002 Summer Job pitch, “In Marlboro Country, a land in which freedom and adventure are at home, hundreds of jobs wait for you” (Jones, Sandra C, 2002). It has been Marlboro’s prowess in effectively advertising to various cultures that has played a major role in Marlboro’s significant impact on the world market.

Marlboro first advertised light cigarettes for women.


To the preferred smoke of cowboys, the most masculine of American men:

normal_1978-Marlboro-Cigarette-Come-to-where-the-flavor-is-ad.jpg normal_1978-Marlboro-Cigarette-Old-Man-White-Hat-ad.jpg normal_1978-Marlboro-Cigarette-horseback-river-Come-to-Marlboro-Country-ad.jpg

Like a lot of virile world travelers, the Marlboro Man sired his share of bastards over the years, most of them now only dimly remembered by those who grew up at a time when cigarette ads popped up on seemingly every third page or so everything from TV Guide to Ladies’ Home Journal. Marlboro had the market sewed up on cowboy iconography and with it all those men who identified with the timeless vision of rugged individualism it represented.

Scientists Conclude That Cigarettes Are Toxic And Cause Cancer

J.J. Holland, who is often credited to be the first to document a correlation between tobacco and cancer, noted the link between tobacco and cancer of the lip in 1739 (Doll, 1998). Before 1930, lung cancer was a rare disease, but by the end of the 1930’s, the number of deaths due to lung cancer rapidly increased (Klausner, 1996). In 1939, F.H. Muller conducted the first case-control study of smoking and lung cancer, concluding that tobacco was the “single most important cause of the rising incidence of lung cancer” (Witschi, 2001). Despite these studies and others like them, the evidence was largely ignored and did not reach the public.

In the 1950’s, things began to change, starting with the publication of four separate, retrospective studies in 1950 that provided more evidence of the link between cigarettes and lung cancer (Klausner, 1996). In 1951, two mortality studies were conducted, one set up by Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill in Britain where 40,000 physicians were tested, and one set up by E. Cuyler Hammond and Daniel Horn in the U.S. where 187,783 Caucasian males were tested (Klausner, 1996). In Doll and Hill’s study, questionnaires were sent to British doctors, who had to answer questions about their smoking history; whether they smoked, quit smoking, or never smoked. Over fifty years, a significant amount of doctors had died and the causes of death were recorded and the results concluded that there was a higher mortality in smokers than in non-smokers and a clear relationship between the amount smoked and the death rate from lung cancer (Hutchinson, 2006). The results also showed that life-time smokers died on average of ten years earlier than life-time non-smokers, but smokers who quit at the age of fifty cut that number to half and those who quit at age thirty almost lived as long as the non-smokers (Hutchinson, 2006).

In 1952, Reader’s Digest published an article called “Cancer by the Carton,” which brought the dangers of smoking to public attention for the first time (A brief history, 2000). Fighting back, major American tobacco companies formed the Tobacco Industry Research Council and decided to market filtered cigarettes and cigarettes containing less tar, promoting a “healthier” smoke (A brief history, 2000). Cigarette sales continued to rise until the 1960’s, when two widely-publicized reports were published; one by the Royal College of Physicians in London in 1962 and one by the Advisory Committee to the US Surgeon General in 1964 (Doll, 1998). After these two reports, the notion that smoking was a major cause of lung cancer was finally accepted world-wide (Doll, 1998). Today, cigarettes are connected to nearly forty diseases or causes of death, including bladder cancer, hypertension, chronic bronchitis, and myocardial degeneration (Doll, 1998). In 1965, the U.S. became the first country to require health warnings on cigarette packages and in 1971, cigarette advertisements were banned from television and radio in the U.S. with other countries following suit (A brief history, 2000).


Cigarette smoking are a pure example of cultures in contact; its transformation over centuries turned it from religious act, to medicinal panacea, to social pastime . However, through research in the halfway mark of the 20th century the truth behind the health effects have begun to take away the prominence of cigarettes. With the advance of the 21st century cigarette companies made be heading near extinction.


Adrian Chow, Samantha Bulmer, Nikita Hostland, Matthew Nakagawa

Works Cited

About Philip Morris USA. Philip Morris USA- an Altria Company. Accessed July 25, 2011 at

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Brown A, et al. (2006) Happy Birthday Marlboro: the cigarette who taste outlasts its customers. Tobacco Control. 15(2), 75-78

Collings et al, (1977). On the Use of Tagetes lucida and Nicotiana rustica as a Huichol Smoking Mixture: The Aztec “Yahutli” with Suggestive Hallucinogenic Effects. Economic Botany. 31(1),16-23

Doll, R. (1998). Uncovering the effects of smoking: Historical perspective. Statistical Methods in Medical Research, 7(2). Retrieved July 27, 2011, from SAGE Journals Online.

Doll, R. (1999). Tobacco: a medical history. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 76(3), Retrieved from

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Flaherty, Stacy and Mimi Minnick. Marlboro Oral History and Documentation Project. Archives Center. Accessed July 25, 2011 at

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Johnson,Bradley (2010), Up in Smoke: Documents From the Annals of Tobacco Marketing. Advertising Age. Accessed July 22, 2011.

Jones, Sandra C. (2002), Marlboro’s marketing in Western Europe: Is it ethical? University of

Klausner, R. (1996). Smoking and tobacco control monograph no.8. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from

Musk and De Clerk, (2003). History of tobacco and health. Respirology. 8(3), 286-290

Shammas, C. (2005). America, the atlantic, and global consumer demand. OAH Magazine of History, 19(1), Retrieved from

Wexler, Thomas A, (2006). Tobacco: From Miracle Cure to Toxin. Yale Global Online. Retrieved July 21, 2011 from

Witschi, H. (2001). A short history of lung cancer. Toxicological Sciences, 64(1). Retrieved July 27, 2011, from Oxford Journals.

Wollongong Research Online. 3434-3435. Accessed July 22, 2011.