03 March 2012

Tobacco and Women’s Waistlines

Father of Spin by Larry Tye, 1998, Excerpts

The share of cigarettes consumed by women more than doubled from 1923 to 1929, but it was still just 12 percent. The quickest way to rally more women to cigarettes was to zero in on their waistlines. Slimness was coming into vogue, and cigarettes could be sold to the public, especially women, as a fat-free way to satisfy their hunger. Bernays furnished magazines and newspapers with the latest findings on the get-thin trend. For fashion editors, that meant photo after photo of slender Parisian models in haute couture dresses. For news editors, it meant testimonials of medical officers warning that sweets caused tooth decay and advising that “the correct way to finish a meal is with fruit, coffee, and a cigarette.” Hotels were urged to add cigarettes to their dessert lists.

Bernays urged homemakers to demand kitchen cabinetmakers to provide special places to hold cigarettes the same way as they did for flour and sugar. He urged container makers to provide labeled tins for smokes just as they did for tea and coffee, and encouraged home economics writers to “stress the importance of cigarettes in home-making. Just as the young and inexperienced housewife is cautioned not to let her supplies of sugar or salt or tea or coffee run low, so she should be advised that the same holds true of cigarettes.” Never had a publicity campaign been carried out on so many fronts.

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