Looking Back


When Smoking was "Cool"

Magazines manage to stay afloat not only from sales but because of their advertising revenue. You can learn as much (perhaps more?) about a culture from advertisements in popular magazines than by reading heavily researched articles.


Try browsing through some of the magazines in the collection at Onoway Museum. Life magazine was a very popular weekly (American) magazine which was published from 1936 until 1972. Part of its attraction was the emphasis on large photos rather than long stories. Because Life was so popular, its advertisements accurately reflected American culture on a week-to-week basis. If it was advertised in Life, you had to have it!


So ... your doctor telling you to smoke Camel cigarettes suggests just how popular smoking was. This ad in Life, March 18, 1946 reported that doctors of all sorts preferred Camels because they tasted good and were mild on the throat. Although people had been smoking for centuries (often as part of a healing regimen) , it wasn't until the 20th century that it was commonplace for women as well as men.

                                  Magazine Ad 1946
                                  paper & tobacco in tins

Life magazine March 18, 1946

Cigarette paper + cigarette tobacco sold in tins

You could buy a tin of tobacco and cigarette papers and roll your own then carry them around in a shiny cigarette case but increasingly, cigarettes were purchased ready-made. Of course a shiny lighter (rather than a penny matches) was more "cool".


Our local businesses got in on the act. Ashtrays were not only necessary but could be an accessory to the home decor. Johnny's Coffee Shop and Helmut's Garage gave gift ashtrays to good customers in appreciation of their business.



Ashtrays were decorative ads!

Then the rules changed. Although it had been illegal since 1908 to sell cigarettes to those under 16, laws were passed in 1988 that prohibited selling or giving tobacco to those under 18. Tobacco vending machines were removed from everywhere except bars and taverns. There was movement toward smoke-free workplaces and cigarette packages had to carry health warnings. And that was just the beginning. (For a concise legal history of smoking in Canada, see


Visit Onoway Museum and spend an hour flipping pages of old magazines the time flies and you come away more aware of how the world keeps changing.


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Last updated: March 9, 2019