The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  calls cigarette smoking  "the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US, accounting for over 480,000 deaths per year." The CDC just reported that smoking rates among US adults have fallen to the lowest level ever recorded  – only 14%,  less than a third-rate just 70 years ago. While this decline is remarkable, it also points to a puzzle: How did smoking rates ever get so high in the first place?

Getting rolling cigarettes

Tobacco smoking originated in America around 3,000 BC Seafaring traders introduced to Europe and Asia in the 17th century. One of the first anti-tobacco publications ever issued was King James I's 1604 "Counterblaste to Tobacco," in which I have condemns the practice as "loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, and dangerous to the lungs. "

Smoking has several appeals. First, tobacco naturally contains nicotine, an insecticide, which raises alertness, speeds reaction times, and stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which are associated with pleasure. Second, smoking may provide opportunities to flout authority and fit in with peer groups. Third, eleven someone you have started smoking attempts to stop may precipitate withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, anxiety and weight gain.

Wartime promotion

Over the course of World War I, cigarettes supplanted pipes as the most popular means of tobacco. Soldiers who smoked pipes had to keep their loose tobacco dry, take time to fill their pipes, and relight them frequently, which could attract enemy attention. By contrast, cigarettes were quick and easy to consume. Free cigarettes were distributed to the troops, and they began as a unit of currency, with the price of a haircut, for instance, set at two cigarettes. During the war, rates of smoking tripled. 

During World War II, free cigarettes were again distributed to soldiers and even included with ration kits. Soldiers were encouraged to smoke to emboss boredom and improve morale, and in 1943 their demand helped US companies manufacture 290 billion cigarettes. Some tobacco ads showed patriotic wives and mothers shipping cartons of cigarettes to their loved ones on the front. At home, rationing made cigarettes scarcer, and on days they were available, people often lined up to buy them.

Cigarettes' health effects

In 1954 ad that appeared in over 400 US dailies was entitled " A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers ." It is stated that "interest in people's health is a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in business." Yet it also added, "We believe the products we make are not injurious to health," claiming that "one of the charges" cigarettes are injurious "have been abandoned for lack of evidence."

Tobacco companies were not content merely to deny that cigarettes are harmful. They also used print, radio, and television ads to argue that they are positively healthful. Many ads featured physicians and dentists endorsing particular brands because they were filtered or mentholated. One 1930 Lucky Strike ad claimed  that "20,679 physicians say Luckies are less irritating," calling them "Your throat protection against cough."