A "Universal Custom" Overseas

By some estimates…

0 %
of Canadian soldiers were smokers

First hand accounts bear out such statistics. Taylor Statten, a member of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of Canada (YMCA), wrote in a report of his time spent in Belgium that smoking could “well be considered a universal custom” among soldiers overseas.

This was due, in part, to army issued tobacco. In addition to their daily rations, soldiers received two ounces of tobacco per week. While they could consume this however they pleased, most elected to use their tobacco ration to roll cigarettes. Two ounces was enough to make roughly 40 cigarettes.

Over the course of a year, this works out to be the equivalent of …


… cigarettes furnished by the army for each soldier.

Cigarette animation sourced from Lottie Files by Marcelo Scharlau Coelho under CC BY 4.0 International*

"Many thanks indeed for the lovely box of Benson & Hedges [cigarettes] which arrived last night. They are a treat and it was very good of you to have thought of me."

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Fred Ritchie Letter, October 6th, 1916. Collections CCGW.

Cigarettes sent in parcels not only had the benefit of being free but were, generally speaking, of higher quality than army issue tobacco and many of the cigarettes available for purchase near the front.

In addition to these rations, cigarettes were readily available for purchase behind the lines and were frequently mailed to soldiers at the front by their family and friends. Tobacco funds, which accepted donations to provision soldiers with various tobacco products, were also common.