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

"Cadets were my choice. Vouchers inside, collect enough and choose items from the catalogue. Good old days when you could buy a packet of 7 No 6's for two bob from a machine on the wall outside your local shop." Paul Smith 15/12/2016

"Most of us who smoke now were having adverts thrust at us 'TO SMOKE'. Now when it suits, they try to stop us by humiliating us as best that they can. I was going to try and give up until they began this pathetic campaign. So thanks Mr Government man/woman." Doug Goodwin 18/02/2017

"Any pics of embassy no7 my bf thinks they never existed..." clare 29/03/2017

"I and mate of mine spent the whole summer holiday of 1976 smoking 555 State Express. I think John Thaw smoked players Navy Cut in the Sweeney." J. Catlin 17/04/2017

"John Thaw smoked Piccadilly in the Sweeney. Best regards" Steven 19/04/2017

"I remember the first fags I bought were 10 Park Drive for 18 pence, they were the vilest cigarette, but the cheapest also. I graduated to Embassy Regal shortly after that. When I got to 48, I realised that I'd smoked for about 3/4 of my life, so I knocked it on the head. I tried most of those brands, apart from Cambridge and Albany. Picadilly were the worst by far. Most though are long gone. I tried so many in fact, that the budget smokes like Lambert and Butler or Craven A are now expensive premium brands. It's amazing how expensive cigarettes are." Shiki R 13/05/2017

"I remember, what year I dont know, maybe you can let me know at my mum giving me a 50p coin to go shop for 10 park drive cigarettes and the Daily Mirror... and she said keep the change for sweets, I'm 46 now I dont have a clue how old I was, I'm guessing late 70s early 80s. I hope theres no shops that serve cigs to children nowadays. Haha" Jason Stott 15/05/2017

"Started on embassy no1 early 80s good smoke now on the menthols" jenny 07/09/2017

"I no3 no5.players no6.players no10. Guards.sovereign range.where all these gone." mark vaughan 23/02/2018

"Smoked Senior Service plain,no tips about 60 a day.
They cost 30p for 20. Budget put 5p extra tax on a packet
so I stopped smoking. It was sometime in the 70s. I still suffer
from what I call the Bisto syndrome, the kids on the Bisto pack
smell the Bisto and say Ah Bisto, I occasionally have the same reaction to tobacco." Paul 05/03/2018

"10 pence in 1972 for no 6 no 10 was the sweep ups" Peter machn 05/06/2018

"Going back to the Sweeney I seem to recall George Carter sometimes having a pack of 20 dunhill international." M j hunter 05/07/2018

"i think no 6 were the first i smoked when i was about 12, me and a mate used to buy 5 in a paper sweet bag from the corner shop, about 1974" roy davis 05/08/2018

"Started smoking properly in 1979, 20 rothmans in sainsburys 48 1/2p. used to be able to smoke in the youth club if you were 16, Went onto old holburn rollups & craven "A" reds,hated Peter Stuyvesants, used to give me a killer throat !
Now happily enjoying anber leaf rollups (with a filter)
I reckon that if I keep smoking, I'll die before I get Alzheimers of dementia which I can do without.
Going to have a day & a coffee now, lovvvvely !" David cooper 29/08/2018

"I remember Vangaurd giving away a voucher,where when you got 10 you sent away for a free pack !!!" Tony ward 21/10/2018

"Its a very good idea to put pictures on the packs of cigarettes pipe tobacco cigars rolling tobaccos

I thank you for this service


Wilf" Wilf 22/11/2018

"Great to go back to the days when smoking was everyday and normal - in cinemas, pubs everywhere. And kids learnt to smoke as pary of growing up, at about 14" Mike Alec 17/12/2018

"At 13/14 we were allowed out of school at lunchtime to go up town. A lovely young woman dressed in a mini skirt and a cadets hat wih a tray of CADETS would hand them out free to us obvious children...those were the days." Stew 04/01/2019

"Started smoking seriously in 1961. Riding on the,top deck of the bus home from school was like sitting in a thick fog. Got COPD now but still at it." steve 08/01/2019

"I remember having my first cigarette at around 11...I was a late starter in the 70s! I stopped a couple of years ago. No way was I gonna pay £6 or £7 a packet. Funny even now I still look at the kiosks in supermarkets where tobacco is sold. I remember some of the best people I ever met was while having a fag at work, in a club, or a favourite cigs were Winstons in the 80s , B Ensons in the 90s and later roll ups. Dont miss fags cos in the 2 years I stopped must have save myself a few grand..but I still reminisce about the old days of fag smoking..poor souls who smoke now are outcasted by society.. see them huddled outside buildings like banished criminals..At least I have lived in the golden days of 70s smoking.. and have good memories.." Nobby 20/01/2019

"Yeah, smoking in the 70's was so acceptable and normal you didn't even think about it wherever you were. I chucked it in 1975 though when the price of 20 Gold Leaf went up from 28p to 32p! Who would believe what they cost now - 20 fags cost half of my 1975 weeks wages. I'm on the cigars now but only buy them abroad and can't be bothered with that going out for a smoke carry on. Oh for the good old days!" Sam 24/01/2019

"My first cigarette was park drive between me and my friend. Eventually I settled with Players No 6 then Embassy No 1 before I stopped smoking in 2013" Gary Collinge 18/02/2019

"I was 14 when I used to light fags for my mum on long journeys, didn't start smoking proper until I was 17 in the pub with my friends, someone crashed the fags and I took one and lit it, I didn't look back until I got pregnant and give up for 5 years, I started again when I started working in the UBO, first violent incident and I reached for the fags didn't stop until 2013 when the way fags are manufactured changed and they tasted like crap, paid for a brand new car with what I saved ;). PS the shop across from school sold 10penny specials, 2 fags and 2 matches in a paper bag he was coining it in in 1975" Jacky 27/05/2019

"I used to smoke piccadilly de lux. cigarettes.until they were discontiued.what a shame.a great smoke." Mark Vaughan 11/06/2019

"Started smoking a 5 pack of Park Drive tipped for 10d in 1969. Graduated via Embassy, Embassy Regal, Three Castles, Albany, Benson and Hedges and Rothmans to Marlboro, before stopping in 2000. Never liked No6 or the Senior Service plain my Dad smoked." Graham 26/06/2019

"State Express n Sovereign were awful. Only if skint. Remember Regal fondly n Camel when Goin out." Simon 10/07/2019

"Remember me and my two mates buying number six in singles from the local sweet shop. When my mate next door dad died of cancer and later his mum I gave up.
Both my mates are dead same way now!
I still want a drag 50 years later when I smell it." TIM 17/08/2019

"5 park drive and a book of matches... If you put all the days I'd had, end to end, you could run a handrail round the isle of wight! Gave up 30 years ago, but only just stopped missing them!" Dave Shutts 17/08/2019

"5 park drive and a book of matches on the way home from school. Paper rounds funded Sovereign, and working moved to Albany, the Sterling, and ended up on Consulate, as my mates lass smoked At Moritz, and I liked the menthol.. If you put all the days I'd had, end to end, you could run a handrail round the isle of wight! Gave up 30 years ago, but only just stopped missing them!" Dave Shutts 17/08/2019

"I smoked, not heavily, from 1983 to 1999 (gave up when the wife fell pregnant). I'm glad I stopped when I did because now my dad has terminal lung cancer and emphysema after a lifetime of smoking. I wouldn't wish his suffering on anyone, and hopefully I escaped any long term harm myself." Dom 29/08/2019

"I started with No6 cos they were cheap and all I could afford out of my pocket money. Left school and got a job in 1970, money,money and I moved into the glam style of living with cigarettes to match. Silva Thins and Sobranie Cocktail cigs. That was the life. I remember thinking how cool it was to smoking Gauloises cigarettes as well. Smoking was a way of life, my parents smoked, I smoked." Richard Dean 30/08/2019

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