synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)
[personal profile] synecdochic posting in [community profile] cap_chronism
This rant brought to you by me seeing a reference in a Steve-and-Bucky-before-the-war fic that "cigarettes were much too expensive for them to buy regularly and Bucky had to carefully ration them" and just thinking: no.

Today, a pack of cigarettes costs a varying amount from state to state and municipality to municipality, but just about everyone is accustomed to thinking of them as 'expensive'. The average price of a pack of premium-brand cigarettes in the US today is about $6.50 a pack when averaged across all states, but state and local taxes can send it much higher. In New York City, for instance, the taxes alone on a pack of cigarettes are nearly $6 -- or, around five times what I paid for a single pack of cigarettes when I started smoking in 1992 or thereabouts; I remember the controversy, four or five years before I took up the habit, when the price of a pack went over $1 and you could no longer buy them with change you fished out of your car!

The total, if Steve-today wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes in his old neighborhood, is about $14 a pack, which is $.70/cigarette: a pack costs about twice what Federal minimum wage is. (That is, someone living in NYC and working for minimum wage would have to work two hours a day, plus some for tax withholding, to afford a pack a day habit if smoking premium cigarettes. There are cheaper brands, and people working at that minimum wage do often buy them, but I think they're shit. More about brands in a minute.)

For Steve and Bucky growing up, though, cigarettes were much cheaper, and not just because of inflation: they were significantly cheaper as a fraction of minimum wage. A pack of premium-brand cigarettes in 1940 (the best data I can find) generally cost $.10 (half a cent per cigarette), while Federal minimum wage in 1940 was $.30 -- in other words, a person living in NYC and smoking premium cigarettes would have to work 20 minutes a day to afford a pack a day habit.

Neither Bucky nor Steve thinks of cigarettes as expensive, and the price of cigarettes (and, specifically, the relative price of cigarettes) is one of the things that blows Steve's mind. He's used to thinking of cigarettes as cheaper than many kinds of food. (In fact, there were probably many nights when Bucky tried to convince Steve he wasn't hungry, fed Steve his share of dinner, and then smoked a few cigarettes: nicotine is an appetite suppressant.) In his mind, people think absolutely nothing about handing each other a cigarette, and he in fact is used to keeping a pack of cigarettes, even if he doesn't smoke, in his apartment for visitors and on dates so he can offer one to his date. (He also carries a lighter -- not disposable, which were only invented in 1972, but a Ronson or a Zippo -- to light a lady's cigarette for her. It runs off naptha, too, not today's butane: if Steve-then did smoke, and he tries a cigarette now, he will be very confused about why he can't taste the lighter fuel when lighting off a disposable lighter. You can taste the lighter fluid off a refillable Zippo when you inhale, but the disposables are too self-contained.)

Now, you can definitely convince me that Steve-then doesn't smoke, but only if you do it by way of "tried the special anti-asthma cigarettes the doctor prescribed, didn't like 'em, gave up". (Of note: those cigarettes were not tobacco cigarettes; they were herbs with bronchiodilator properties. Far from being a "oh ha ha people in the past were so stupid that didn't know that smoking is bad for your lungs, and they even used it to treat asthma!" thing, they actually did work very well for a large number of people, although they had kind of awful side effects (hallucinations, racing heartbeat, delerium) and they were not standardized dosages.) But there is pretty much no way in the world you'll convince me Bucky-then doesn't: by the time WWII started, 80% of adult men smoked, with the percentages being higher among working-class people.

They are very used to hearing and seeing cigarette advertising everywhere: on the radio, in the newspaper, in magazines, on the sides of buildings, etc. There aren't any restrictions on when and where they can be marketed, and there are no disclaimers or health warnings on the packs.

Brands: The brand of cigarettes you smoke has gender, racial, and class connotations. Not everyone from a particular race or class smokes the same brand of cigarettes, but there are definite trends. For instance, in the US today, thanks to a history of predatory marketing, black smokers are ridiculously more likely than white smokers to smoke menthol cigarettes. In a 2005 survey on smoking and brands, 70% of all white smokers smoked one of six brands, and only one brand, smoked by 5% of all white smokers, is menthol. 77% of all black smokers smoked one of five brands, and three of those five -- smoked by 66% of all black smokers -- are menthol. Obviously there are individual preferences, but is statistically unlikely for a white person to smoke a menthol cigarette or a black person to smoke a non-menthol cigarette: half of all white smokers smoke Marlboros, half of all black smokers smoke Newports. That's the biggest and most obvious brand connotation, but there are other, more subtle ones: Virginia Slims are almost exclusively a woman's cigarette, for instance, thanks to the "you've come a long way, baby" marketing campaign that ran for years. Camels are a working-class cigarette; American Spirits are the hippie cigarette. (Hipsters roll their own, or smoke e-cigs.) Etc.

Brands have come and gone over the years (and with some brands, you can tell someone's rough age based on the cigarettes they smoke), as have the gender/racial/class coding associated with them. Marlboros are the most popular brand of cigarettes in the world now, for instance, and people automatically think of the Western-nostalgic marketing and the ultra-macho Marlboro Man when they think of the brand, but that brand campaign was a mid-1950s invention: to Steve and Bucky, Marlboros were a woman's cigarette, especially because they were filtered. (Filtered cigarettes didn't come into fashion for men until the 50s or so; before then, filtered cigarettes were thought of as delicate and ladylike. Regular-strength Marlboros to this day have a tan, mottled paper around the filter part of the cigarette: this was to help hide the lipstick marks.)

I'm less familiar with the class connotations of brands in the WWII era, but if you want a specific brand for Bucky to be smoking, Lucky Strikes (unfiltered, of course) are a good, safe choice: they were the top-selling brand in the 30s and 40s and had very wide appeal. Parliaments would be a good backup. (My grandfather smoked Parliaments until the day he died.) He miiiiight smoke Camels instead, but they're a smoother, milder cigarette and were considered less manly. (Which is a good case of brands shifting: when I started smoking, Camels were considered one of the "tough guy" cigarettes: for when Marlboros weren't manly enough!) Of note: the famous LSMFT abbreviation ("Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco") that today is many people's reflexive thought when they hear the Lucky Strike name was a postwar slogan; it didn't arrive until 1947, so, neither Steve nor Bucky would recognize it. And to them, a pack of Lucky Strikes is green, not white with a red circle.

Of the Commandoes, Falsworth smokes Chesterfields (which was Ian Fleming's brand, as well as James Bond's); Dernier smokes Gauloises, gets an incredible amount of guff for it -- they are ridiculously strong-smelling, were ridiculously strong-smelling even at the time in comparison to other brands, and many people claim that they smell like horse shit -- and absolutely refuses to change, because smoking Gauloises was a matter of French patriotism in the interstice between world wars. (They are all very used to standing upwind from Dernier when he lights up.) WWII was before the really strong racial divide in cigarette preferences started up (aforementioned aggressive scummy marketing being a thing of the 60s, mostly) but I'm afraid I don't know more, so I'm not sure what Jones might smoke.

Whatever their preferred brands at home (and once you have a preferred brand, you generally don't switch), in the field they all smoked whatever was in the rations. Brands varied widely: you either got 9 cigarettes of the same brand, or 3 each of 3 different brands. Trading for your preferred brand was quite common, but if nobody had the brand you wanted, you smoked what you got. ("Smoke 'em if you've got 'em" is WWII slang, actually, and I'm pretty sure it's going to outlast actual smoking as a phrase in use.)

That about covers the "stuff I've seen in fic that bugs me", but if there's anything else people want to know about smoking in-period (or smoking now, as a matter of fact), hit me.
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