Varsity Drag: Cigarettes For College Men

After our pipe post it seemed logical to look at cigarettes —  specifically vintage ads with a campus setting. You may think it foolish to smoke cigarettes, but the planet will likely die of cancer before you do.

Above, Chesterfield ad from the ’40s, while below is a Pall Mall ad from 1962 depicting campus romance (or something like it), which would have competed with Don Draper’s Lucky Strike campaign:

The right smokes making you popular with the ladies was a common selling point. Here are two from Old Gold:

Next up: Khakis, white bucks, and Winston:

The babe who gets the football hero goes for Chesterfield:

While those in the stands go for Viceroy:

Great name, incidentally, as smoking is certainly the king of vices. — CC

26 Comments on "Varsity Drag: Cigarettes For College Men"

  1. Is the Winston ad on the steps of the U.Va. Rotunda?

  2. Or rather, does the Winston ad depict the steps of the U.Va. Rotunda? 😉

  3. Bill Stephenson | March 15, 2011 at 10:28 am |

    Great ads!

    Who knew? At the time these were published, many tobacco companies hired student reps to pass out samples of their product on campus. Great idea. Warren Buffet once said that the cigarette business was the best one available. Make them for a penny, sell them for a dime, and they are addictive.

    Seems strange, that no one in those days realized the problems that came with cigarettes. The doctors my family saw in my growing up years all smoked. It was considered to be a sophisticated habit by most students. Film stars all smoked in their films, and they were a big influence on 18 19 year olds.

    From the campus to the service. Cigarettes were free in C rations, and 5 cents a pack in the PX.

    My generation paid a horrible, and needless, decrease in mortality because apparently no one really knew better at the time. What a shame.

    When you look at the ads, it is clear that if you smoked, you were to be admired.

  4. While I could only partially read it, I love print ads such as the one for Old Gold where they are making health benefit claims.

  5. Great insight as always from Elder Statesman Bill.

  6. How about television programs sponsored by tobacco companies? Lucky Strike (“LSMFT”) sponsored Jack Benny’s show and the ads are pretty funny.

  7. St. Michaels' | March 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm |

    Old Gold added Latakia (see “Something New has been added”). Unfiltered too.
    Wish these were still around.

  8. Bill Stephenson | March 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm |

    At the time that these ads were being published to target the campus, there was another one directed to the general public, that was probably before the time of many IS readers.

    This ad had a model with a white coat on, depicting an MD. The ad had the Dr in the foreground, with a railroad box car in the background. The copy read; “Not a cough in a carload.” (Old Gold, I think.)

    Couldn’t help but think of this article when I was in the parking lot of a shopping center today. Young lady @ 17 was crossing the lot, with many body parts pierced with some type of hardware, visible tatts, and smoking a cigarette. I think cigarettes are @ $7 / $8 a pack? Must be some kind of a self destructive psychosis . If her parents insisted that she smoke, she would probably give it up.

  9. Decades ago, I can remember seeing cigarette butts everywhere. People would just throw them down. Old former soldiers like myself will remember being lined up on police calls just to pick up butts. I went to a college that did not allow smoking, so I do not know if this form of littering was rampant on smoking friendly campuses. Doctor’s offices had numerous smoking stands for the convenience of their patients. I think the reason I never smoked cigarettes was the disgust I felt while on those police calls while I was in the military.

  10. I’m surprised to see that Ivy Style would endorse such a lower-class habit. Although the vintage posters are fantastic, what they endorse is not.

    The pipe post was acceptable. Maybe if they were posters for cigars it would sit more comfortably.

  11. ScoobyDubious | March 15, 2011 at 11:16 pm |


    I didn’t read any endorsement. Neither did you.

  12. Bill Stephenson | March 16, 2011 at 1:51 am |

    Interesting. I don’t read the article as an endorsement of cigarettes, any more than a report on latest BB offerings endorses their approach. Just the way things were.

  13. Simsy, I think it can safely be said that Ivy Style does not endorse life style choices. Those are up to the individual based on their investigation of potential risks and benefits. To call it a lower-class habit is to view the subject from a modern and very bourgeois Paradigm. If you look at American social history as seen through tobacco consumption you would find the opposite is true. To take your argument to the logical conclusion the students that attended Yale in the 1870’s most have come from the lowest levels of society as evidenced by this bit of ephemera from the Yale News January 29, 1878. Filed under Yale Log, it states “The members of the Senior class occupying seats 91 and 85 in chapel have been fined for covering the floor in tobacco juice. They had better invest in a cuspidor.”

  14. Correction should have used the word must.

  15. The tobacco juice reference reminds me of the following. My grandfather, an architect and builder by profession, was advised by his doctor in the 1930’s to quit smoking cigarettes. He always remarked that he never smoked cigarettes from that day forward. He did smoke a pipe on rare occasions; however, chewing tobacco became his poison of choice. I don’t remember any time he did not have a big chaw in his mouth, usually Five Brothers or Cutty Pipe. For my younger colleagues, try smoking Five Brothers in a pipe. How he chewed that fowl weed is beyond my comprehension. In addition, he used to carry an empty Zerex antifreeze can about the house as a cuspidor. Antifreeze used to be sold in gallon metal containers when I was a boy. His habit did not seem to affect his health. He lived to a ripe old age of 84.

    When he died in 1969, my family took over his old home. I remember as we were cleaning and remodelling the old house, that tobacco smell permeated the place for quite a while. My mother would just go crazy over that, for neither she or my father ever used tobacco (or alcohol). When I started smoking a pipe, (my uncle got me started) my mother never approved of my tobacco use, but fortunately, she never banned me from smoking in the house. Mothers are much different than wives in that respect.

    Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on this. Cheers!

  16. No, that’s not the UVa Rotunda in the Winston advertisement. The Rotunda’s columns have been painted white for years–and in the advertisement they’re sort of a sandstone color. In addition, the Rotunda stairs did not have iron railings. But yes, at first glance, it does look at bit like dear old UVa.

  17. Ralph Kinney Bennett | March 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm |

    Interesting post, Christian. Simsy’s comment about a “lower-class” habit is pretty amusing. Smoking was one of the prime “badges” of sophistication and the ads and the movies (where smoking was ubiquitous) reflected that fact. Although I did not smoke, neither I nor anyone I can recall regarded it as a “filthy habit.” I well remember the college grill on my campus bathed in a blue haze of cigarette smoke.

    Coeds practiced just the right “look” when lighting up, the proper crook of the lower three fingers when holding their cigarette, the sophisticated tap with the index finger to flick the ash. Tobacco companies gave away free packs on campus (students earned money handling these “cigarette days”).

    A seminar would not have been a seminar without ash trays scattered around the table for the participants. My memory of one particular creative writing seminar is replete with images of tweed-jacketed guys reflecting on Kerouac and Salinger as the smoke curled upward from their cigarettes. The professor would sit back, elbow resting on the arm of his chair, his cigarette hand cocked up by his ear as he listened to us. If he wished to interject something he would preface it by bringing his hand around ever so slowly to his mouth to take a deep drag. He would partially inhale, let some of the smoke draw through his nostrils, then preface his point with a long exhale. Very impressive. Cigarettes were definitely “collegiate.”

  18. A old gent from my hometown tobacconist used to talk about smoking (he was a pipe guy) in the back of the lecture hall in the late ’60s. Can’t imagine that lasted much longer.

  19. Charlottesville | February 6, 2020 at 4:52 pm |

    Christian — Varsity Drag was the perfect headline. For those who are unfamiliar with the song and dance, it can be heard and seen here:

    As for smoking in public places, I recall smoking sections even in some movie theaters (in the balcony) in the 70s, and W&L had a smoking section in the law library at least as recently as 1985 when I was there. When I was a kid, smoking was ubiquitous, except at my house where my parents forbade the practice. Not sure when it stopped, but by the late 80s or early 90s it was pretty much banned from most places other than bars and the smoking sections of restaurants. My law firm stopped permitting it in conference rooms around 1987 or so and before long in private offices as well.

    As for whether the columns depicted in the Winston ad show the UVA Rotunda, I can’t say. While Rick may well have been right about the lack of iron railings in 2011 when he left his comment, today the Rotunda steps have iron railings. Whether the steps wore railings and the columns sported white paint in 1957 when that ad appeared, again I cannot say. The columns are certainly painted white today, but several renovations, some more extensive than others, have been done over the years. In one case, the columns of one of the pavilions near the Rotunda which once were painted white are now stripped back to sandstone. So it is a mystery I cannot solve. My best guess, though, is that it is someplace other than UVA.

  20. Vern Trotter | February 6, 2020 at 9:27 pm |

    The tobacco companies gave cigarettes away to the armed forces by the millions of cartons. Since most males had to serve in the military, it was the place to get Americans addicted. Smoking was permitted almost everywhere. I do not know how we tolerated it.

    I could never stand smoking and was lucky to never get hooked. Nearly everyone I knew was hooked from high school on. I began drinking at age 14 and became another type of addict and was such from then on for 56 years but for the last 10 years have not had a drink and have been recovering. My daughter and several friends have died from having both habits together.

  21. Vern,

    Nor can I believe that we ever tolerated smoking in most public places. I too became hooked the summer I graduated from high school. My college library had large glass ashtrays all over the library. We thought nothing of smoking in grocery stores and extinguishing the butts on the floor. I quit cold turkey after a few years and a few tries. I was a two pack a day distance runner. Go figure. Today, I can tell if somebody smokes in their car with the windows closed. Putrid.

    Quitting the gins and tonic would be more difficult for me if ever my consumption got out of hand. I am sorry to read about the loss of your daughter and friends because of their additions. God speed on your recover.



  22. Here’s the better question – who’s buying up all those FE Castleberry (a smoker) x Mighty Mighty Bosstones ska shoes? So cool!

  23. Old School Tie | February 7, 2020 at 1:29 pm |

    Due to a knee problem (probably compounded by constantly wearing camp mocs) I have taken to wearing Doctor Martens type shoes which I think are probably more Mighty Mighty Bosstones than young master Castleverry’s offerings. All of mine are also bench made in Northamptonshire. As for smoking, when I was at medical school many of the doctors would smoke in the outpatient clinic between patients and that included the respiratory physicians.

  24. JerkitTillBlind | February 8, 2020 at 6:10 pm |

    Onanism is the king of vices among this crowd.

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