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  • Writer's pictureSteven Heller

Smokin’ Women

After WWI, Vienna-born Edward Bernays (1891–1995), known as the “inventor” of public relations and the father of spin (and Sigmund Freud’s nephew), was hired by the American Tobacco Company to encourage women to start smoking. While men smoked cigarettes, it was not yet publicly acceptable for women to do so. Tobacco needed more customers. Bernays staged a dramatic public display of women smoking during the Easter Day Parade in New York City and alerted the press to expect that women suffragists would light up “torches of freedom” during the parade to show they were equal to men.

Cigarettes had become a symbol of male sexual power … penis envy that turned into a nail in their coffins. The campaign drew in its new prey and sales to women increased. Other cigarette companies followed Bernays’ lead and created ad campaigns that targeted women. Lucky Brand Cigarettes capitalized on recent fashions for skinny women by telling customers to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”

Smoking represented freedom. Bernays, however, lighted up a new form of oppression, the freedom to buy what advertising told you to buy. And like it! Here are some of the countless lures.

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