Smoking and the 70s

Embassy Filter, Britain's most popular cigarette in 1969

Cigarettes were a big part of life in the 70s. People smoked them in large numbers. They also started to kick the habit in large numbers too. To give up or not, and to inhale or not, were big topics of conversation.

In 1969, Embassy Filter (right) was the most popular brand. It had been introduced in 1962 and took a staggering 24% of the cigarette market in 1968. By 1971 though, it was knocked off the top spot by Players No 6. In 1972 these brands (below) made up 94% of all cigarettes sold (in order of tar content, lowest first):

  • Silk Cut (filter)
  • Consulate Menthol (filter)
  • Cadets (filter)
  • Piccadilly De Luxe (filter)
  • Cambridge (filter)
  • Embassy Gold (filter)
  • Embassy Regal (filter)
  • Sovereign (filter)
  • Sterling (filter)
  • Player's No 6 Virginia (filter)
  • Park Drive (filter)
  • Kensitas (filter)
  • Embassy (filter)
  • Gold Leaf Virginia (filter)
  • Player No 6 (plain)
  • Player's Weights (plain)
  • Albany (filter)
  • Woodbine (plain)
  • Player's No 10 Virginia (filter)
  • Guards Tipped (filter)
  • Benson & Hedges King Size (filter)
  • Senior Service (plain)
  • Player's Navy Cut (plain)
  • Park Drive (plain)
  • Rothman's King Size (filter)

The majority of the most popular brands are filter tipped. At the time people wanted to believe that the filter would protect them. Medical research showed otherwise, even as early as the 60s. Also worth noting is that Rothman's advertised their cigarettes as for "...when you know what doing are doing" - a bit ironic considering the tar content!

In 1970, 55% of men and 44% of women smoked cigarettes. The percentage smoking cigarettes had fallen from the peak of 65% in 1948 and the risks of smoking on health were beginning to slowly sink in. In spite of research by the late Professor Sir Richard Doll published in 1951, which linked smoking with lung cancer, cigarette smoking was so much a part of life that the habit died hard. Even as late as 1973 the Guinness Book of Records described nicotine as an "anodyne to civilisation".

Cigarette packet, 1971 style - mild health warning - would you be convinced?

In 1971, cigarette manufacturers agreed to put a mild health warning on the packets (left) - "WARNING by HM Government SMOKING CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH". I say "mild" because Professor Sir Richard Doll's research showed that of 1,357 men with lung cancer, 99.5% were smokers. Or as "Which" chillingly put it - you had as much chance of dying before you were 44 if you smoked, as a serviceman had of being killed in the Second World War. Most people were still playing Russian Roulette and hoping that the chamber was empty.

"Which" never published a report comparing one cigarette brand with another. They acted in the best interest of consumers and recommended only that people should give up. There were conflicting stories circulating concerning the safety of other forms of smoking, such as pipe or cigar smoking: "Was it safer than cigarettes?", "Was it safe if you didn't inhale?" and "Was it worth waiting for a safe cigarette?". "Which" did not sit on the fence and told members as directly as possible that the only safe course of action was to give up.

The 70s was the decade when people did finally accept the risks of smoking and the proportion of the population who smoked fell quite significantly. Those leading the way were the professional middle classes. The anti-smoking group, ASH, was founded in 1970 and took a lead in alerting the public to the dangers of smoking. The proportion of men and women smoking cigarettes dropped gradually during the 70s. By 1980, 42% of men and 37% of women smoked. (Today's figures are 27% and 25% respectively).

Add your comments

"I seem to remember that Cambridge cigarettes came with green shield stamps inside the pack. Made of cardboard but you could still stick them in the book." Paul Griffiths 29/08/2015
" I was a kid in the 70 and smoke 10 number 6 and 10 number 10 them was the good old days when you could spend ten penc for ten fags.if it wasn't for smokers the nhs would claps" Tony 24/02/2016
"I miss all those old brands and wish they could all come back like no6 no10 senior service extra looks like the good old days are a distant memory" anthony moyle 29/02/2016
"First cigs I ever bought was 10 Sovereign and they were 11p! They were like mini B&H, in enticing gold packaging. Must have been around 1973.
Better stop looking at this site cos I quit smoking 10 years ago but now feeling like a tab !" Chris Copley 14/04/2016
"10 Regal cost me 27p -the first fags I ever bought. Smoked them deep in a cave on the South Beach in Tenby Wales where I lived at the time! Scared of getting caught!

Graduated to 20 B & H and never looked back till they went up to a £1 a packet-gave up then" Paul Mooney 30/06/2016
"I bought every brand on the shelf in my local "paper shop", they had hundreds of brands it should have been called the fag shop. I normally smoked old holborn at 18p for 1/2oz, packet of rizlas a penny and a box of matches a penny.

Number-10/park-drive/sovereign were 19p for 20 and Passing clouds were the most expensive at 35p for 20.
Gave up smoking in 1988, I would need to grown my own tobacco to smoke now.

Was talking about this the other day, there was a shop that always had lines of schoolkids outside it. The shop broke packs of park drive and sold single fags to school kids for 2p each, the good old days." rick wright 25/10/2016
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