Detroiters’ loyalty to Kool cigarettes in ’70s frustrated Philip Morris

KoolIn the early 1970s, Kool cigarettes were exceedingly popular among African Americans – and tobacco companies wanted to know why.

Hoping to grab a piece of the market, tobacco giant Philip Morris surveyed Detroit menthol smokers in January 1972 to gauge their attitudes about Kool cigarettes and to test their openness to a potential new brand, “Menthol Fats,” according to newly discovered documents from tobacco company archives.

Kool pack

The two surveys found that Detroiters were steadfastly devoted to Kool cigarettes, saying they tasted smooth and were refreshing after smoking marijuana.

“For reasons that these smokers were unable to articulate, Kool is definitely the ‘in’ cigarette among these people, and they are remarkably loyal to it,” Philips Morris Marketing Executive Al Udow wrote in a letter to the company’s new product brand manager, Chris Bolton.

“There is no brand in sight that seems to have the vitality to take over.”

Detroiters had a resoundingly negative reaction to the company’s potential new product, Menthol Fats, a thicker cigarette that would have competed with Kool and smaller market menthols like Salem, Belair and Newport. Philip Morris had a menthol brand, Alpine, but it struggled.

“Some people could not take it seriously,” Udow wrote of Menthol Fats. “Others felt they might be almost embarrassed to ask for them in a store.”

KoolUdow concluded: “In a real sense it was viewed as the opposite of what menthols are.”

Philip Morris noted that Kool smokers were predominately of the “other” race and in the “lower socio-economic class”

“This was accepted as a normal thing, neither adding to, nor detracting from the image of the brand,” Udow wrote.

One consistent finding was that virtually every Kool smoker questioned by researchers seemed to smoke pot. 

“The smoking of marijuana was so widespread among the group participants that it was taken for granted,” Udow wrote.

They reported liking the “smooth” taste of Kools, especially after smoking pot.

“It clears out the cottony feeling in the mouth and throat,” Udow wrote.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • Jane Brundage

    I was a pretty diehard hippie back in Ann Arbor in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and almost everyone I knew smoked Kools. At that time, Newports were smoked primarily by wholesome fraternity-type girls. Also, back then Detroit was THE place one went to see all the rock bands and music and theater, and to shop. It wasn’t empty like it is now–it was the place to go almost every week. So there was a lot of interaction with Detroit. Many of the old hip bands like the MC 5 and Iggy all had a lot of familiarity with serious jazz and it was common to go to Detroit jazz clubs as well as Detroit rock & blues venues. I was frequently told, in other states, that they could tell a Detroit hippie because so many of them had a “hard city edge”, usually smoked Kools, and seemed more bohemian/hipster than hippie.

  • Headly Westerfield

    You buried the lede.

  • Michael A Brouwer

    Interesting fun fact….makes perfect sense. Like having a mint after dinner.

  • Marian Pyszko

    Then crack cocaine came in………

    • Gary

      Was Kool’s your gateway to crack?

  • queenie1

    I wonder how it actually switched to Newport being the “go-to”? And I never heard anyone say anything about smoking Kools after weed, that’s pretty funny!

  • Gary
  • Samuel Hoadley

    Newports took over that market many years ago

    • Samuel Hoadley

      I never liked Kool, myself

  • Dust Buster

    if only they had introduced the blunt concept and told them they could stuff more weed into them …. maybe they would have caught on

    • Gary

      the shit you write is extremely amusing