Tobacco and Cellophane: A Love Story


Ad for Camel’s new humidor packs, meant to seal in freshness as well or better than a real humidor, 1932 (R.C. Maxwell Co. Records collection, accessed via Duke University Library as part of the university’s ROAD initiative).



Before the invention of moisture-proof cellophane, cigar and cigarette producers wrapped their products in foil. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. Accessed May 10, 2018.

One of the biggest early cellophane success stories was “Big Tobacco.” Throughout most of the 1920s, tobacco companies wrapped their cigars and cigarettes in foil to prevent tobacco deterioration and to preserve its aroma.[1] The process of wrapping cigars in foil by hand, however, was time-consuming and expensive. The development of moisture-proof cellophane and cellophane wrapping machines in the late 1920s gave major retail tobacco businesses a chance to adopt a new marketing strategy that emphasized cellophane’s ability to mimic the function of a humidor, a room specially designed to house tobacco. Instead of requiring a humidity-controlled room to preserve tobacco’s aroma and moisture, cellophane could preserve those crucial qualities just as well as a humidor and far better than foil. Camel, one of the largest tobacco companies, jumped on the cellophane bandwagon first in 1930, and Lucky Strike quickly followed.[2]

Here’s what a cigar expert has to say about the advantages of using cellophane wrappers for tobacco products:


Camel were the first tobacco company to rush head-long into wrapping their tobacco products in cellophane, starting a race between tobacco companies to brand themselves as the ones with fresh, cellophane-wrapped tobacco. Ad courtesy of Business Insider. Accessed May 10, 2018.

The big tobacco companies advertised “humidor packs” for sale, claiming that they offered consumers a luxury smoking experience through mild-tasting cigarettes with supreme freshness. Hollywood stars marketed cellophane-wrapped cigarettes on the big screen, and actresses convinced women to prefer it wrapped that way.  Jean Harlow, star of the film Three Wise Girls, declared, “Put me down as one who always reaches for a Lucky…it’s a real delight to find a Cellophane wrapper that opens without an ice pick.”[3]  By 1931, cellophane-wrapped cigars and cigarettes dominated the tobacco market, and the tobacco industry was the first industry to use cellophane widely.[4]


News column describing the repeal of a tax law that prohibited the use of cellophane wrappers, 1931. From the Hope Star (Hope, Arkansas)

Cellophane was so popular throughout the industry that when cellophane wrappers were banned by the Arkansas Department of Revenue in 1931 due to the need to affix tax stamps directly to tobacco products, tobacco companies revolted. They claimed cellophane was a necessity, because it kept tobacco fresher than any other wrapper available: “Manufacturers estimate that cigarettes without the cellophane wrappers lose one percent of their strength in four days, compared with 42 days for this same deterioration where the cellophane is used.”[5] Stunned by the industry-wide protests, the new regulations were quickly overturned by revenue department officials. Cellophane won the day, and its use would continue to be a premier selling point for tobacco products.


Even today, cigars are still commonly wrapped in cellophane to protect flavor and aroma. Image courtesy of Pexels. Accessed May 10, 2018:


VII. If You Wrap It, They Will Buy…Maybe⇒

[1] Just About All About Cellophane, 96.

[2] Ibid

[3] Actress Jean Harlow speaking about Lucky Strike cigarettes in a feature film, Three Wise Girls, 1932.

[4] The Story of Cellophane, Box 13, Lavoisier Collection; DuPont Magazine, v. 25, no. 11, 1931, pg. 3.

[5] Hope Star, October 23, 1931, pg. 1