You probably remember back when you were a kid, just hanging out on the porch on a hot summer day to try to make the time pass by until something interesting happened. This is especially true for those of us that grew up in a time without the internet, fast computers or video games that had the capability of booting up online matches at a moment’s notice. However, not many of us were smoking cigarettes on our front porch during our youth. In the cast of this child, though, he was ready to toke up what appears to be a hand rolled cigarette while getting his picture taken.
No, this isn’t a young Ron Howard taking part in a method acting role, but rather a photo that was pulled from the streets of Baltimore in 1938. This wasn’t exactly a posh part of the Baltimore landscape, either, as this child comes from what was referred to as the slums of the city. The best way to describe this child would probably be “rough and tumble,” sporting his ripped jeans, bruised face and a thousand yard stare that leads you to believe he’s seen a lot more in his early years than most adults will see in a lifetime. In fact, there’s a good chance that at his age, this young man ended up serving in World War II, with the United States becoming involved three years following the photo being taken and staying in the war until 1945.
Baltimore was going through a rough period during the first part of the 20th century, especially as the political climate became a point of contention amongst many of the city’s residents. At this time, the median income in Baltimore was much lower than that of other parts of the United States, making scenes like this one a very common sight. For some, smoking cigarettes on the porch was pretty much all you could afford to do on a typical afternoon.
Seeing a youngster smoking cigarettes even in more posh areas wasn’t exactly uncommon, though. Currently, the age to legally purchase and use tobacco in the United States is 18 years old (and 21 in some states), which is a law that actually dates back to the later parts of the 19th century. However, that wasn’t really well enforced for the decades that followed, especially as some states didn’t even have an age restriction. In fact, at the time that this photo was taken, both Ohio and Rhode Island had no minimum age for smoking cigarettes.
A lot of that had to do with the amount of lobbying that the tobacco industries had done with politicians, as well as the large swell of advertising that was used during these years. It wasn’t until around 1930 that the first amount of evidence that linked tobacco use and cancer started to come out. Since this was new evidence, a lot of people didn’t take it for gospel and continued to smoke cigarettes with advertising also running rampant.
Back when this youngster was walking the streets of Baltimore, it wasn’t uncommon to see advertisements for cigarettes on billboards, posters on storefronts, in magazines or even hearing them on the radio. They made a lot of these advertisements appeal to children, as they were ripe for the picking, not really knowing about the dangers of cigarettes while the older base of customers had either quit or became ill, meaning that they wouldn’t be customers for very long. It was a very cutthroat business for tobacco companies, and they competed at the cost of their customers’ health, leaving a lot of their morals at the door.
Young people were used in advertising frequently, with one advertisement for the popular Lucky Strike brand even displaying a young woman with the quote “Of course I smoke Luckies – they’re kind to my throat.” It wasn’t just some random young woman, either, but rather a movie actress named Ina Claire that had been very popular at the time. You couldn’t possibly imagine seeing a major movie star in an advertisement for cigarettes these days, especially since most advertising for tobacco has simply become part of American history, not a part of the present or the future.
Even after the end of World War II and throughout much of the 1960s, cigarette advertising had very much been a big staple of television, radio and magazines. It wasn’t until the final parts of the decade that there started to be a backlash toward this form of advertising, with the United States government finally deciding to start taking action. At first, the FCC started to air counter-programming that warned about the dangers of smoking, but decided that wasn’t enough.
Instead, Congress opted to increase the regulations in 1970 by enforcing the Public health Cigarette Smoking Act that would ban cigarette advertisements on both television and radio. On New Year’s Day in 1971, the final cigarette advertisement was shown in what proved to be a lucrative spot with cigarette companies competing to see who would be the last during the very popular “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.
Other forms of tobacco hadn’t been completely banned, though cigarettes themselves had vanished from the airwaves just like that. That didn’t mean advertising for cigarettes was dead in the water, though. They were still trying to appeal to younger generations, taking out full page ads in magazines and making sure that their names were plastered on some of the biggest sporting venues in the United States. Some of the most iconic moments in sports history following the television and radio ban all have tobacco advertisements in the background. You might recall seeing one of MIchael Jordan’s signature slam dunks with a large Marlboro advertisement displayed on the scoreboard.
Now, pretty much all type of advertising for cigarettes are a way of the past, which has helped to lead to a large decline in smoking over the years. In the 21st century, you might see this photo recreated when you’re walking down the city streets, but it’s far more likely that the child got his hand on a vape pen than a cigarette, and that those torn jeans are being worn for a fashion statement. After all, the more things change, the more they stay the same.