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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Camels and Kents, Cigarettes of Champions

    Camel cigarettes were introduced by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco in 1913. Most current Camel cigarettes contain a blend of Turkish tobacco and Virginia tobacco. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the city where R.J. Reynolds was founded, is nicknamed "Camel City" because of the brand's popularity.
     In 1913, R.J. Reynolds innovated the packaged cigarette. Prior to that cigarette smokers rolled their own. Reynolds worked to develop a more appealing flavor, creating the Camel cigarette, so named because it used Turkish tobacco in imitation of then-fashionable Egyptian cigarettes and within a year Reynolds had sold 425 million packs. 

     The original Camels had a milder taste than established brands. They were advance-promoted by a careful advertising campaign and another promotion was 'Old Joe', a circus camel driven through towns used to attract attention and distribute free cigarettes. The brand's slogan, used for decades, was "I'd walk a mile for a Camel!" 
     Its popularity peaked through the brand's use by famous personalities such as news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, who use was so heavy that smoking a Camel no-filter became his trademark.  Frank Sinatra was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of Camels.
     Their ads also featured Frank Marshall in the April 28, 1934 issue of The Saturday Evening Post and Arnold Denker was also featured in ads after he won the US Championship in 1944. 

     In 1987, the company created "Joe Camel" as a mascot and by 1991, the American Medical Association published a report stating that 5- and 6-year olds could more easily recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone, Bugs Bunny or even Barbie. This led the AMA to ask Reynolds to terminate the Joe Camel campaign. The company refused, but further appeals followed in 1993 and 1994 and finally in 1997, the Joe Camel campaign was replaced with a campaign which appealed to the desires of its mid twenties target market. Camel paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits accusing them of using Joe Camel to market smoking to children. 
     Few people are aware that Tal was not only a gifted chess player but a gifted pianist. Though never featured in Camel ads, Mikhail Tal was originally a Camel smoker. That was one of his vices. The others were women and alcohol. One of Tal's best friends told the story of how after he won a game, Tal would call different women and tell them he had won the game because he was thinking of them and his alcohol problems are well known.
      In The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal he described his efforts to quit smoking in 1960 when the Soviet team was on its way to Hamburg to play against the West German team. Geller and Tolush were smokers and Tal told them that if he asked for a cigarette they were to refuse to give him one. In his very first game against Lehmann, after Lehmann lit a cigar, Tal asked first Geller then Tolush for a cigarette, but honoring his request, they refused. Tal then went inot the bar and bought a pack of Camels. Later he switched to the filter tipped Kents. 
     Kent is currently owned and manufactured by Reynolds. The brand is named after Herbert Kent, a former executive at Lorillard Tobacco Company. Widely recognized by many as the first popular filtered cigarette, Kent was introduced by the Lorillard Tobacco Company in 1952 around the same time a series of articles entitled "cancer by the carton", published by Reader's Digest, scared American consumers into seeking out a filter brand at a time when most brands were filterless. 
     Viceroy was the first to introduce filters in 1936, but Kent heavily advertised its "famous micronite filter" and promised consumers the "greatest health protection in history". Sales of Kent skyrocketed, and it has been estimated that in Kent's first four years on the market, Lorillard sold some 13 billion Kent cigarettes. 
     Eventually it was discovered that the micronite filter contained compressed carcinogenic blue asbestos within the crimped crepe paper. It has been suspected that many cases of mesothelioma have been caused by smoking the original Kent cigarettes, and various lawsuits followed over the year causing Lorillard quietly change the filter material from asbestos to the more common cellulose acetate in mid 1956. 
     Kent grew until the late 1960s, then began a long, steady decline as more filtered cigarette brands promising even lower tar were introduced. In the 1970s, British American Tobacco bought the brand and started selling it outside of the U.S, eventually making it one of their most popular brands along with Dunhill, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall and Rothmans. In 2014, Reynolds offered to buy the Lorillard tobacco company for $27.4 billion and in 2015 the Kent brand became the property of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. 
     Between 1970 and 1990 Kent was the most demanded cigarette in Romania and in some cases they were used as payment or bribe. In the latter part of the 1990s Kents were no longer generally and officially were sold only in hard currency shops and on the black market. 
     Early in World War II Wake Island surrendered to the Japanese on December 24, 1941 and both soldiers and civilians became prisoners of war and were shipped to Woo Sung, China. There they were joined by the Marines who had guarded the American Embassy in China, including William Howard Chittenden who later authored several books, including one on his experiences, From China Marine to Jap POW
     While in prison camp Chittenden acquired a chess set which had a fascinating story attached to it. He bought the set from one of the 800 civilian POWs who pent his time carving chess sets. The set was selling the sets for 20 packs of cigarettes and Chittenden, a non-smoker, collected the 20 packs and purchased the pieces. 
    Samuel Reshevsky was also an inveterate smoker, but as many times as I saw him at US Championships I never paid any attention to what brand he preferred. Anybody know?
     Anand has been a little more discerning...at least no cigarettes!


  1. It's interesting that Tal was an enthusiastic and competent piano player despite a congenital deformity of his right hand. Apparently, two of his fingers were fused together. Yasser Seirawan has written how startled he was the first time he shook hands with Tal

  2. He had a condition known as ectrodactyly. Oddly enough,while rare, it is also seen in dogs and cats as well as a few other animals.

  3. off topic but wanted to share. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-09-21/wall-street-s-best-kept-secret-is-russian-chess-master-lev-alburt