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I’d Walk a Mile For You, Baby!

By Richard Sheaff

In greeting cards the imagery of smoking cigarettes, along with related paraphernalia such as ashtrays and matches, became one of the most ubiquitous themes from the 1920s through the 1950s. For Christmas, Easter, Birthday, New Years, Get Well, Valentine; for husband, for son, for son-in-law, for girlfriend, for mom, for dad, for grandchild, for aunt, for uncle . . . no matter the occasion, cigarette-themed cards were deemed highly acceptable—indeed appealing—to an extent rather amazing to 21st century eyes, when only 13% or so of Americans still smoke cigarettes. And of course dads and other men were commonly depicted smoking a pipe or a cigar.

During those years cigarettes were heavily advertised everywhere, smilingly endorsed by movie stars and other celebrities, macho cowboys, even medical doctors. Smoking was not only “in”, it was considered elegant, and promoted as beneficial to one’s health! Johnny Carson smoked cigarettes on screen along with his guests. Diners in even the most exclusive restaurants lit up throughout their meals. Sometimes greeting cards even incorporated catch phrases taken directly from cigarette ads.

How the times have changed! It all goes to show that sometimes ingrained societal norms can indeed reverse over time. Perhaps there is hope for changes to continuing harmful cultural norms such as racism, environmental indifference, single-minded pursuit of the almighty dollar, the tidal wave of plastics, denial of science, acceptance of nonsensical online conspiracy theories, drug abuse and corruption. (And the ubiquity of kale, I do hope.) The only constant is change, and time can change everything.

Such seemingly-inappropriate usages of cigarette images on greeting cards have long struck me as surprising—even though I was myself once a smoker—and a bit revolting. I regard such cards to be providing informative insights into contemporary American culture and norms during those decades.

Some examples are shown below, in no particular order.

(Not a greeting card)

The cigar slides out of its band, and has a greetings message on the back.

This one has an applied plastic cigarette.

Another applied plastic cigarette.

And of course there were (and still are) chocolate cigarettes for the kiddies, smokers-in-training.