Friday the Rabbi Smoked Winston

Exclusive! Chatterbox has finally obtained captured enemy documents. No, he hasn’t stumbled on a cache of Viet Cong papers originally leaked to Joseph Alsop after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Instead, he’s unearthed a September 1969 R.J. Reynolds internal memo outlining an insidious plot to market cigarettes to “Jewish people.”

Chatterbox is not making this up. This tobacco marketing plan was part of the swag from the California “Joe Camel” case. Buried in a blizzard of documents released by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in January, the pivotal Jewish angle was tragically neglected by a sensationalist press corps more interested in cigarette-sales strategies designed to hook teen-agers and African-Americans. Maybe if the anti-smoking crusaders had played up this veritable smoking-bagel memo, the Senate tobacco bill would be alive today.

In 1969, the advertising wizards at R.J. Reynolds regarded Jewish consumers as an “ethnic market” like blacks and Hispanics. As the memo, written by by Gehrmann Holland, puts it, “Today’s Jewish market is peopled with a very `in’ younger generation…(who) take advantage of the Kosher resort areas in the Catskills…the theater, racetracks and favorite dining spots.” This seems to suggest that the typical Jewish smoker was Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls who puffed his way between Saratoga and Lindy’s.

R.J. Reynolds was particularly proud of “the excellent progress of WINSTON in the Jewish market,” where sales growth was double the national average. Their secret: heavy ad buys in the Jewish media. (No, not the New York Times, but the Ohio Jewish Chronicle). These ads were designed to “reflect an upscale and ‘with-it’ atmosphere.” But–and here’s the whiff of anti-semitism you’ve been waiting for–they should not feature “heavy ‘Jewish’ types.” (Only now do Barbra Streisand and Jackie Mason learn why they were rejected for that Winston ad spread 30 years ago).

Chatterbox, who decries all ethnic and racial stereotyping, was troubled to discover that certain cigarette brands, like restricted WASP country clubs, actively discouraged Jewish smokers. In discussing the ad campaigns of rival brands to Winston, the RJR memo tartly noted, “Marlboro had no Jewish effort.” What a revelation! All these years, Chatterbox mistakenly believed that the Marlboro Man kept Kosher.

Walter Shapiro