Mennonites and the Marlboro Man

The Marlboro man, pictured as a cool-guy cowboy in a fresh country setting, ruled cigarette advertising from 1954 -1999.

Credit: Google Images
Credit: Google Images

Smoking then was considered glamorous and cool, a way to fit in with the crowd. One of our most popular presidents, Ronald Reagan, was formerly a cigarette model for Chesterfields, even advertising that he would give cases of the product to his friends for Christmas.

Credit: Google Images
Credit: Google Images

As the Marlboro Man’s ads evolved, the Surgeon General’s warning of health hazards appeared on cigarette packs. Now of course, smoking is taboo in stores and restaurants, and smokers are often viewed as outcasts.

* * *

Mennonite farmers in Lancaster County during the 1950s and 1960s grew tobacco as a prime cash crop. But as Shirley Showalter points out in her memoir, growing tobacco was both a tradition and controversy among Lancaster Conference Mennonites. “After George Brunk’s tent revivals, many farmers plowed up or stopped planting tobacco,” she comments. My own Dad stopped planting tobacco then, substituting tomatoes and corn in our acreage in Bainbridge, Pennsylvania. Shirley divulges her dad’s decision about farming tobacco in her book BLUSH (173).

Here are some photos of young tobacco plants, Mother Ruth in the tobacco fields and then a snapshot of the drying process before the crop was sold to a tobacco company.

Web_tobacco-in-rows

Web_Ruth-in-tobacco

Web_tobacco-in-doorway

The issue of tobacco production and use appears in the Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church (July 1968) but as an advisory to only ministers and their wives:

“Inasmuch as ordained brethren and their wives by their teaching and example exert strong influence within the brotherhood, it is required for the spiritual welfare of the church that they give evidence of willingness to subscribe to . . . the following standards of faith and life.

Listed as “f” in a range of a – h points is this directive but only to the ordained: “the non-use and non-production of tobacco.” (29)  Apparently the issue of smoking and its health hazards posed a serious dilemma to the church with lay members who relied on tobacco growing as a way to pay the mortgage.

Many of my uncles smoked cigars when they were together. Even my dad would occasionally join in as a way to socialize.

*  *  *

I recently found a map of Yellowstone with a Conoco ad in the 1960s using the pleasures of smoking to promote their brand of gasoline:

Web_1964_Yellowstone-map+man-smoking

* * *

A young boy named Jeremy learns about the dangers of smoking in an imaginative book entitled The Boy Who Grew Too Small.

Web_The-Boy_Cover_w-shade_300pix

Leave a comment below if you want to contact Author/Illustrator Cliff for more information about his book.

Other comments about this post – welcome here too!

 

Coming next: A Corny Post

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44 thoughts on “Mennonites and the Marlboro Man

  1. I used to think the Marlboro man looked like my Dad. Dad smoked heavily up until he turned 50, when the doctor told him it would cost him his life. He quit cold turkey and lived to be 83. Mom wouldn´t let him smoke in the house though. Did your husband write the little book? How clever.

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    1. Quitting smoking likely saved your dad’s life – at least it extended it to a ripe old age. Yes, Cliff wrote the book which he distributed in public schools nation-wide but particularly in the South, still a strong-hold for tobacco farming.

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  2. Good morning, Marian! Very interesting post. Of course I remember the Marlboro Man, but I did not know that tobacco was an important cash crop for Mennonite Farmers in Lancaster County.

    Both my parents smoked. I think my dad quit when he was in his 50s. He used to stick a pipe–unlit–in his mouth instead. I think he thought it made him look professorial. One of my mom’s friends taught her how to smoke when my mom was home sick and bored. Can you imagine?
    My husband still smokes, but not in the house or my car!!

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    1. A pipe and jacket with leather elbows – that was the professorial image back then. I think Michael Cain probably perfected that persona in one of his films. I imagine you were relieved when your dad quit smoking.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Growing tobacco in SE Georgia was the main farming crop when I was growing up, Thousands of acres of land produced tons of tobacco, Both my grandfathers grew tobacco, and of course the majority of the men smoked, many times ‘rolling’ their own smokes with thin onion skin type paper. The finesse of rolling their ‘smokes’ with one finger became a skill that many acquired.

    Growing, cultivating, cropping, stringing the leaves on tobacco sticks for curing in an old fashion barn are no longer the accepted method for harvesting this product. For the few remaining farms that produce tobacco, the methods have been automated with sophisticated and expensive equipment that takes very few people. So many changes.

    One of my first summer jobs (away from the family grocery) was working the tobacco; handing, stringing, but more importantly, hearing all the small town gossip from older teens and adults around ‘the barn.’ Our kids today will never know a life like that. Hard work, actual conversation with their peers and older adults in a small community of friends and family.

    Thanks again, Marian for bringing a part of my history back to the forefront.

    Gave Cliff’s book as a Christmas gift to my grandchildren several years ago. You two are quite the talent.

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    1. Thank you for your anecdotes here from a Deep South perspective. You know, there were so many opportunities for socializing around work. Activities in that era often required a group effort: planting and harvesting crops, milking. I’m thinking too of women gathered in a circle shucking corn, snapping beans. They even made quilting a social event.

      We both appreciate your encouraging support. And thanks to your smart purchase of Cliff’s book, we hope grand-daughter Iris will remain smoke-free!

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      1. I wasn’t quite sure as to the comment above…when referring to “our kids today will never know this…” I am thinking she means her own kids, not kids in general? That her own kids and their offspring will not be working in the tobacco industry? Because it certainly cannot be a blanket statement. Corn detasselers are hired around here in large numbers, for long, up to 10 hour days when the time is right. The call is out for pickers for the upcoming strawberry season. These hire teens in large amounts. I could go on and on. I personally think it’s a good thing that teens are out of the tobacco industry. Also, whether a teen is working 8 hours at the McDonalds or 8 hours on the farm they are both working hard and conversing with peers and adults. If I interpreted this wrong and is referring to teens in general I would certainly like to hear more.

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        1. I’m glad to hear that teens where you live can learn a good work ethic and get paid during their summer vacation wherever they work. Hopefully, Carolyn will spot your comment and reply.

          Always glad to see you here with your unique point of view, Athanasia. Your comment on corn detasseling reminded me that very soon I’ll be publishing a post on corn.

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    1. Welcome, Marilyn! Did the other “strippers” help you learn a multiplication rhyme, or quiz you? I’d like to know the details and I’ll bet my other readers would too. Thanks for leaving a comment here. I hope you visit here again.

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  4. Hi, Marian! Thanks for this post. The novel I’m working on deals with smoking and lung cancer, and I don’t want it to come off as preachy. I like that you brought up the negative (health) and positive (pay the mortgage) aspects of tobacco and its production. Makes me aware that I want to bring out the ambivalence of moral issues when I explore this.

    Well done!

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    1. I like how these posts cause ripple effects in other people’s lives – in your case seeking balance in presenting a moral issue. Something similar happened to me yesterday as I read Shimmering Images by Lisa Dale Norton who invites memoir writers to be generous with their characters, to invite compassion. One of my characters needs that treatment; I’ve been too harsh.

      Your novel sounds intriguing. Best wishes in all the ups and downs of the process.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the shout out to BLUSH, Marian. You are good at setting up suspense. Spoiler alert: My father resisted the Brunk revival message. He also smoked cigars. These practices caused my mother great moral qualms. She wrote letters to church leaders about how to farm without a cash crop. I don’t know if she sent them, but she suffered. I was prepared to see moral ambiguity through this experience.

    I love your use of ads. Also the detailed documentation in these photos, down to the ragged edges.

    The Amish continue to raise tobacco in Lancaster County. One of the reasons is that they love the way it produces work for the whole family all year long. They have the opposite view of manual labor from most Americans.

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    1. I always learn something interesting from your comments – here about the Amish view on tobacco farming as a way to keep hands busy all year long.

      You are certainly your mother’s daughter. Thank you for including additional proof here. Barbara Ann’s unwavering pursuit of a life of integrity is awesome. She would get an Outspoken Citizen Award these days.

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  6. Cigars when my husband was in Cuba I would bring back cigars from Cuba to sell here to help support my children here and generate money to go back to Cuba. Cuba a cigars are the best world wide and I’d sell them for $ 500.00 a box. Once my husband got home I stopped going to Cuba and stopped selling cigars. Although it was very lucrative I always felt convicted. I praise God when Pablo finally got home. He was there five years and I went every six months. It’s amazing what a person does to support their family. As a child to 18 I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, but when I went to New Life I kicked itcold turkey. So happy God took me out of destruction at a young age. I’d love to buy some of cliffs books for my grand children so they never smoke.
    Gloria

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    1. I can feel how torn you were: selling cigars out of a strong need to support your family but knowing also they were a health hazard. Your story has a happy ending though. Cliff will contact you shortly about his anti-smoking book.

      Thank you, Gloria!

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  7. I smoked for thirty-seven years. Marlboro menthol light 100,s and recently gave up tobacco. I never smoked in my home or in closed confines with my kids, but all three of them have smoked at some time. I encourage smokers who have tried EVERYTHING, as I did, to try vaping. It has worked wondrously well for me. The latest Marlboro Man died this past January. The fourth to have died of smoking related illness. http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-marlboro-men-20140127-story.html

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    1. I have been following your triumph over tobacco on your blog and the huge spurt of writing energy that followed – brava. But my readers probably don’t know what vaping is. I’m clueless too, but would like to be enlightened. Thanks, Susan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I laid down the tobacco sticks and picked up a personlized nicotine delivery system that vaporizes flavored juices. No nasty tobacco tastes, ashes or smell. No organic leaves burning. Instead of the 4400 chemicals, including 63 carcinogenics. It has three, Propylene glycol, vegetable glycol and nicotine. I make it myself and use flavoring like creme brulee, peaches and Bavarian cream, Granny Smith apple, pastry and cinnamon. Nicotine is non-carcinogenic, and has many health benefits. I’m loving it and don’t believe I’ll ever pick up another cigarette. The vapor is not polluted like second hand smoke either. So that’s good news for everybody.

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        1. Wow – I’m blown away by your description. The flavors you describe sound positively sensational, so much better than Vicks Vapor Rub, the only vapor I have heard about health-wise until now. Thanks for the brief tutorial here. I hope other readers have opted for “notifications of new comments.” They’ll get quite an education!. Thanks heaps, Susan.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. My father used to marvel when we drove through Pa. at the Mennonite/Amish tobacco farms (not understanding that if he had grown up there, he might have planted tobacco too; he’d point out the different looking barns for hanging the tobacco and lectured us on not smoking. The lectures took. 🙂

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    1. I’m learning about your dad in bits and pieces here and on our blog posts. He seems larger than life. I’ll bet he appeared that way to you too. Thanks for faithfully showing up here with more snippets of your life.

      We took our kids when they were in elementary school to the Museum of Science and History where there was a cigarette-smoke-charred lung for them to behold. That image spoke louder than words. I think Joel may have experimented with smoking for a short time, but probably Crista was not tempted at all. Neither they nor their spouses smoke. Thank God!

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  9. Marian — Like the rest of your readers, I remember the Marlboro man, too. I also remember television shows where many of the actors/actresses smoked; and commercials for beer were commonplace (the one that pops into mind is Hamms beer, the bear, and “sky blue water”). My dad smoked until I was 7. He stopped cold turkey and was somewhat like a “grouchy old bear” himself for a couple of weeks 🙂

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    1. You often lace your comments with humor. And so I smile – thanks!

      It’s interesting how advertisers link dirty old habits with the freshness of nature. I believe they once thought the subliminal message would be convincing. I always saw it as hypocritical. If the “grouchy old bear” of a Dad lasted for just a couple of weeks, your family apparently was lucky. The important thing is that he quit – good for him!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My mum and dad smoked, later so did my sister and myself . My mum smoked till the end of her life always saying it helped with her nerves …wish I’d got her into yoga it’s so much more fun .
    I kind of remember that ad but everything has moved on hasn’t Marian. What was considered the thing to do just isn’t anymore .
    Your husband is a clever chappie but you’d know that already …love the illustration .
    I often read books from a bygone age . My mum left a library full of romances, from way back, they were so wrong in every way but that was then and this is now .
    I gave up smoking the year I became pregnant with my son …Thanks Cam.
    Cherryx

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    1. I agree, Cherry. If it’s a choice over yoga and smoking – yoga wins, hands down (in a downward dog position – ha!)

      Thanks for your compliment to my husband. “Clever chappie,” you say. He’ll love it. I’ll pass it on.

      Glad you stopped smoking early in life. Here’s to your health and happiness today!

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  11. How smart those folks were to put the problems with tobacco in writing. I started smoking when I was 14 and it became a terrible habit. I finally gave it up about 40 years ago and felt like a new person after a year of terrible withdrawal anxiety. My kids tell me how awful I was during that year but they also tell me it was well worth it.

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    1. You can’t see it, but my fingers are forming a V for victory. It was a win, win for all – after you survived the withdrawal of course. Best of all, your kids still have you around, which may not have been the case if you’d kept on smoking.

      Thanks for checking in here again and commenting, Joan.

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  12. Smoking will continue to be a great controversy. Surgeon general warnings, pictures of death on the packages, etc. used to scare people off and stop them from smoking. On the other hand, they are so expensive and highly taxed because the government really wants the tax dollars. So the question is, is the public warnings to quit smoking really an oxymoron?

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    1. I never thought of it that way before, Debby. I guess the expense would have to be weighed against whether the smoking rate has declined or not.

      Hmmm, thanks – for checking in here and faithfully commenting!

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  13. I count on you for great photos, history lessons, and an interesting look at social issues. Thank you for sharing your world, Marian.

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    1. And I count on you to reflect back to me how these posts resonate with wise readers like you. Who said the virtual world isn’t real. If feels so to me and I’m sure to you as well. Thank you, Elaine.

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  14. Thank you Marian, thought provoking as are the comments! I told my elder son Mike about your husband’s book and the idea of it. Mike is an animator (in fact left this morning to attend the international animation conference in Annecy France) and is always looking for ideas or issues. Yes, well, smoking ….lucky are those who never got addicted … if not smoking, perhaps they have another addiction like food (guilty) … we all have our addictions I guess. But I’m glad that the Peter Stuyvesant ads no longer appear –

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    1. Susan, your son – an animator – well! Cliff did some rudimentary animation for a history of art program he did quite a while ago for schools. I can send you some information on Cliff’s book if you are interested. Literary and visual arts seem to run in the family. Thanks for your interest.

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  15. Arrived here via Darlene’s blog. I know absolutely nothing about Mennonites and so now have to go on another research expedition. I just love to read about others growing up years. Many of my posts are about growing up in London following WW2; so very different from your early years.

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    1. Welcome! You can start your research expedition here. An earlier post focuses on the unique dress of the plain people: https://plainandfancygirl.com/2013/05/15/hair-historical-to-hysterical/ and you can go from there. My “About” page may also be of interest to you.

      I am sure I can learn from you as well, having spent your early years in London following the Blitz. I appreciate your reading and commenting here. Thank you, Judith!

      Liked by 1 person

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