The history of the cigarette filter. Part 1: getting started.

Henry Tudor
5 min readApr 7, 2021
Oris cigarette advertisement, 2020

You may be surprised, but the usual cigarette filters were not invented to reduce tar and nicotine in smoke. And in general, by that time, the manufacturer cared more about the end consumer, because the “tobacco wars” were in full swing and it was the smokers who ultimately decided who would emerge victorious from this battle. As you may have guessed, this article will focus on the history of the most important invention — the cigarette filter.

C. Colombos catalog page, 1914–1915

Until the early 1920s, cigarettes were still not the dominant tobacco product and were considered the lot of the poor in many countries. Aristocrats and ordinary richer people preferred more traditional ways of consuming tobacco — cigars and pipe tobacco, as well as chewing tobacco and snuff.

Murad cigarette advertisement, 1916

The design of cigarettes in the mid-1910s was extremely simple — a paper sleeve with shredded tobacco inside. There were no standards or formats yet, or rather there were, but each manufacturer had its own. The only significant problems with cigarettes of those times were two factors — the cigarette getting stuck to the lips, and the tobacco getting into the mouth when smoked. Neither first nor the other added to the comfort of smoking.

Advertising for Marlboro cigarettes, 1930.

If they learned to deal with the problem of sticking cigarette paper quite quickly, gluing cork mouthpieces to the sleeve or simply wrapping part of the sleeve with colored paper, they still did not know what to do with tobacco getting stuck to their tongue for a long time.

Advertising for Pall Mall cigarettes, 1925.

The history of the cigarette filter began in 1925, when a certain M. Boris Ayvazh applied to the patent office with the invention of a completely new cigarette holder made of paper layers that could be produced in bulks on machines. The search for an investor and further assembly of the new production line took two years, and only in 1927 the first cigarette with the prototype of the modern filter saw the light. But, as we know, in the late 1920s, the cigarette filter was never widely adopted by cigarette manufacturers. No, the filter solved the set task, but at that time there were no technologies for combining the production of filter cigarettes into one line. The “hand-assembled” element always increases the price of the final product.

Advertising for Chesterfield cigarettes, 1935

It was only in 1935 that a machine for the automatic production of filter cigarettes was invented by English engineers and the mass production of filter cigarettes became possible. The problem was finally solved, but … But the consumer did not want to accept the novelty! And there were a lot of reasons — the filter got wet when smoking, it was harder to smoke, the taste of smoke (it was still there) was lost, and filter cigarettes were more expensive.

Philip Morris cigarette advertisement, 1945

Until the end of the 1940s, filtered cigarettes did not receive recognition among smokers, they were produced, but by literally a few brands. Moreover, back in the early 1950s, there was an opinion that filter cigarettes were the lot of weaklings or women. Having lit such a cigarette in a male society, one could easily become the object of offensive ridicule.

HB cigarette advertisement, 1957

Only in the late 1950s did the explosive demand for filter cigarettes began and what contributed to it was… Lung cancer! Doctors of those times established a link between an increased risk of a fatal illness and nicotine consumption. True, the same doctors, it happened, argued the opposite, for an appropriate reward. And if I were a supporter of “conspiracy theories”, I would assume that the “cancer version” is not a “conspiracy of doctors”, but an invention of tobacco corporate groups.

Advertisement for Kentucky Kings cigarettes, 1960.

The manufacturer himself figured out that when using a filter, keeping the length of the cigarette, you can use less tobacco and get additional profits. But the problem is that smokers did not want to buy such cigarettes. And to arouse interest, you need a powerful impulse. The threat of a fatal disease was such an impetus. When one considers things realistically, how is it that for all the publicity surrounding the Marlborough Cowboy story, these cigarettes are still the world’s best-selling cigarettes? Maybe this is also an advertising campaign, brutal, but effective?

Pall Mall cigarette advertisement, 1961.

But back to our research. So, the 1960s was a time of innovation in the use of cigarette filters. The very first type of filter was a construction consisting of a short crepe paper “drum”. However, this type was quickly replaced by a fresh invention — cellulose acetate fibers. The new type of filter did not do its job better, but it was significantly cheaper to manufacture and soon acetate filters became the basis for all designs and are still used today.

The evolution of the filter didn’t stop at crepe paper and acetate fiber. The pressure on tobacco manufacturers soon increased and they were forced to come up with newer solutions to keep up with the current realities of the times. The real technology revolution took place in the late 1960s for many reasons. But I will tell you about this in the second part of the article!