From Marlboro Man to smoking ban: a timeline of tobacco in America

Blog Post created by Thomas3.20.2010 on Nov 21, 2014

America and tobacco are and always have been inextricably linked.


America’s cultural icons – from Texas cowboys to New York gangsters – have long been associated with smoking.


The American South provided the lion’s share of the world’s tobacco for centuries, and the US continues to be one of the world's largest producers.


However in more recent times America has been in the headlines not for growing tobacco, but for banning it.


So how did the country of smoke-filled back rooms become the land of smoke-free streets, parks and, well, just about everything else?


1492: Christopher Columbus arrives in the Bahamas, and is given dried tobacco leaves by native tribes as a token of friendship. Members of Columbus’ crew describe Cuban natives smoking tobacco from pipes.




1612: Early British settlers in Virginia, finding other crops unprofitable, experiment with tobacco plants. By 1640 tobacco is by far the most profitable export of the American colonies, with 1,500,000lbs shipped from Virginia to England annually.


18th century- dominant tobacco product: snuff


1776: Tobacco serves as a chief source of funding – and motivation – for America’s fight for independence from Britain. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other influential figures of the time owned large tobacco plantations, and had found themselves in severe debt to British tobacco merchants prior to the war.




19th century- dominant products: chewing tobacco and cigars


1880s: The first regulations on the use of tobacco take effect in various US states, as scattered reports emerge of health concerns for smokers. The majority of America’s states ban the sale of cigarettes to minors during the second half of the 19th century.


20th century- dominant product: cigarettes


1900s: Four states outlaw the sale of cigarettes, and the Anti-Cigarette League of America pushes for further bans. Despite that fact, 4.4 billion cigarettes are sold in 1900 alone.




By the 20th century cigarettes dominated the tobacco market, despite Al Capone's preference for cigars. Photo: Rex Features


1918: A generation of American men return from the First World War addicted to smoking. One American general reports that cigarette rations had been as important to the troops as bullets. Tobacco consumption spikes after the war.


1955: CBS airs the first TV news segment alleging links between smoking and lung cancer. Two years later the US Surgeon General releases a report tying tobacco to cancer, the first time the US government had taken a position on the subject.


1965: Congress passes legislation forcing tobacco companies to put health warnings on packs of cigarettes.




1970: President Richard Nixon signs a measure which bans cigarette advertising on radio and television.


1975: Minnesota becomes the first US state to ban smoking in public, except in designated areas.


1987: Beverly Hills, California and Aspen, Colorado ban smoking in restaurants. Several towns and cities across the country follow suit.




1990: Smoking is banned on domestic flights across the United States.


1993: Incoming President Bill Clinton prohibits smoking in the White House.


2007: The Motion Picture Association of America announces that the use of tobacco in films will impact parental guidance ratings.




2011: New York City bans smoking in public areas, including Times Square and Central Park.


2014: The town of Westminster, Massachusetts debates a measure which would make it illegal to sell all tobacco products.