Why did the tobacco and entertainment industries flourish during the Great Depression when others were failing?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part of the reason why tobacco and entertainment industries continued to flourish during the Great Depression was that both filled a need that was a holdover from the previous decade.  The 1920s was a time period of great personal indulgence.  The growth of celebrity and wider access to mediums such as film helped to make the entertainment industry strong enough to withstand the Great Depression.  People were enamored of the film industry, using it as a form of escape.  For a small amount, people could escape their pain and suffering for a few hours in a cinema.  At the same time, being able to engross oneself with the life of celebrities provided a sense of escape from a numbingly brutal existence that many faced during the Great Depression.  

Tobacco emerged during the 1920s and lingered on into the Great Depression. During the Jazz Age, smoking was on the increase. Men and women smoked as part of the public scene.  They smoked for social acceptance and in the belief that it helped them establish freedom.  This became a habit and the addictive qualities of smoking continued into the 1930s.  People smoked for a variety of reasons, such as stress relief or one pittance of an indulgence that was a holdover from "better times."  

For their part, tobacco manufacturers understood that economic reality dictated much and lowered prices of cigarettes to meet such a condition.  Price conscious smokers continued to smoke cheaper brands.  Adding to this, tobacco companies created incentives or promotions that enabled people to continue the habit.  In exchange for redeeming proof of purchase, consumers were able to obtain needed items such as pocket knives and dinner pails.  Such marketing strategies enabled smoking to withstand and endure the economic demands of the Great Depression.

Both entertainment and tobacco were sanctuaries for many.  Hit with an economic and social condition where so much pain was evident, people were able to turn to entertainment and tobacco as brief respites from such reality. The result was both industries were able to continue to sustain economic viability when so many were unable to do so.

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