The U.S. government and tobacco have typically enjoyed a laissez-faire relationship prior to the second half of the 20th century when concerns about the effects of smoking were raised by the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in 1964. America included snuff in the excise taxes championed by Alexander Hamilton in 1794, and such taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and import-export duties funded the government for much of the nation’s history. After the Civil War, many of these taxes were repealed, except for those on tobacco, and in 1921 Iowa passed the first state excise tax on tobacco.

More states would pass excise taxes and become dependent on the revenue tobacco generated, but efforts would also be made to regulate smoking in workplaces in the name of clean air, most notably airlines. These efforts culminated as the states began to sue the tobacco industry. The hypocrisy of indignation toward smoking and dependence on excise revenue was laid bare in the cartoons of the nation’s newspapers, not to mention the corruption of politicians eager to take tobacco largess.

Cigar box label designed by Schmidt & Co. of New York

Cigar box label designed by Schmidt & Co. of New York

Cigar box label designed by Schmidt & Co. of New York

Henry Payne
Distributed by Scripps Howard

Ed Stein
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado)
May 26, 1981

Advertising postcard featuring Grover Cleveland
Circa 1883-1885

Paul Fell of the Nebraska Press Association
Lincoln Journal Star

“Trying to place a lid on Big Tobacco is like trying to nail JELL-O to a wall. As evidenced by this cartoon, when you think you have them on the run here at home, they simply slither away to make up their losses by boosting tobacco sales to third world countries.”
~ Paul Fell

Dick Locher
Chicago Tribune

“John Fischetti and I had lunch at Ricardo’s one day, not long after his coronary bypass—that was his first warning about cigarettes. Ricardo’s is one flight of stairs below Michigan Avenue and when we came out of the restaurant I saw John pause. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked. ‘My doctor tells me having sex is like going up a flight of stairs,’ he said, ‘and I’m trying to decide.’”

~ Dick Locher

David Horsey
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“The villainy of the tobacco industry has been a frequent target of my cartoons. I have supported efforts by governments at the local, state and federal level to penalize the industry and to deny the tobacco merchants new customers for their addictive products. However, as in this cartoon, I find it amusing that government has also found tobacco money to be a convenient source of revenue for worthy programs, such as the 100,000 new teachers that Bill Clinton wanted to hire and pay with a cigarette tax. It seems that this kind of revenue dependence could become an unhealthy addiction.”

~ David Horsey

National Smoker’s Alliance
No Date

Jim Lange
Daily Oklahoman
April 12, 1991

“I try to point out the obvious things people tend to forget. I let the cartoon speak for itself. If I have to explain, I haven’t done my job.”

~ Jim Lange

Stephen Breen of the San Diego Union Tribune
Asbury Park Press (Monmouth County and Ocean County, New Jersey)

“The only thing more attractive than a cigarette to a nicotine addict might be a ‘bad guy’ to a cartoonist. We just have to go after them. Make that a rich, arrogant group of bad guys who lie and profit from human death and suffering (and target kids) and the target is irresistible. That’s the reason I did so many on Big Tobacco and those in Congress who helped protect them.”
~ Stephen Breen

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