Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Smoking Nora Aunors of Philippine past

Yes! magazine recently came out with a glossy cover of Nora Aunor for its October issue.  Because she was holding a cigarette, this drew the ire of anti-smoking advocates and some morality crusaders.

A boy and girl of the 1900's having a smoking session.
We've looked at the picture several times and we can't understand why it would create a minor controversy.  The cigarette (we didn't even look at it closely) was simply a prop to us. We were simply awed by the black and white photography, and La Aunor's expressive eyes.  

A role model?  Undeniably her legion of fans from the good old Guy-and-Pip days are still around to ensure her take at the box-office, but we can't imagine her being taken as social/moral model.  May be some granddaughters may get to be named Nora, but that would be all.

But she's such a damn good actress despite her absence from the movie world for quite some time.  Her very textured performance in the premiere episode of TV5's Sa Ngalan ng Ina (In the Name of the Mother) had us rooted before the TV set last night, and surprisingly, we did not mind the commercial breaks.

Downloaded from GMA News Online (02 Oct 2011).
We smoked for some twenty years after getting seduced by peers to the art of puffing a filtered non-mentholated cigarette promoted by look-like-cowboys during our freshman year in college.  We quit long before the Philippines started posting the warning statements on the cigarette boxes.  Before then we've shifted to the mentholated brand, which we thought went better with ice-cold bottles of beer on Thursday nights under the shadow of the Bataan nuclear power plant. 

The generations before us smoked, and they had a choice between a cigar or a cigarette.  There was no cautionary "smoking is hazardous to your health" to heed yet.

In fact, the Americans found that Filipino families, especially those of the tobacco-growing provinces, smoked together.  "Practically all of the Filipinos are smokers—men, women and children," wrote the Navy Guide to Cavite and Manila (1908) to the U.S. navymen being posted to the Philippines. "In the Cagayan valley, where the bulk of the tobacco is grown, and where all members of the family work in the tobacco patch it is the custom for the head of the family to make up each week a cigar a foot in length and several inches in diameter.  This cigar hangs by a string suspended from the roof of the house, so  near to the floor that even the children can reach it,and furnishes smoking for the entire family until it is consumed."

A Nora Aunor of a century ago.
Thus the health advocates and the moral crusaders would be enraged to find the picture of two young Pinoys sharing a cigar were that issue of the Navy Guide be published today. 
The Nora Aunors of the past did not only smoke but many of them worked in the cigar and cigarette factories.  

During the early years of the American regime, almost every distinguished person who visited Manila had been the guest of the Germinal cigar factory, which had become a principal place of interest for visitors.  Here they would find the Nora Aunors at work more interesting than the "may cigarette machines each automatically gathering its paper and tobacco and with merry click ejecting the finished cigarette."

The visitor would be awed by "the pina-clad senoritas [who] sit in long rows engaged in the task of putting the cigarettes up in packages.  So deftly do these girls perform their task that by touch alone they are able each time to gather just thirty cigarettes and so quickly waft them into the folded and fastened package that the eye is left to catch up with the performance.  Never are the cigarettes counted, but from the never diminishing pile, always fed from the machines, the exact number is taken without hesitation and with one movement of the sensitive fingers, then with a rapid movement they are encased in a paper package and are ready for the market."

"The bulk of American cigarette smokers like the native product better than American made cigarettes," the Guide impressed on the sailors.  "Manila cigarettes are famous for their purity and fine flavor, as well as for their cheapness. The best grade of standard cigarettes retails at 5 cents U.S. Currency for a package of 30.  Hand made cigarettes are higher in price, running, in gold tips and fancy boxes, as high as 25 cents U.S. Currency for a box of 20."

For those who go for cigars (and these were all handmade), "the cheapest grade of good cigars are the “londres”, which retail at 8 for 10 cents, U.S. Currency.  From that the prices range on up through an infinite variety of sizes, shapes and degrees of excellence to the big cigars in sealed glass tubes that cost a quarter each.  The names “londres,” “perfectos,” “divines,” “brevas,” etc., refer to the shape of the cigar and are used by all factories. Some factories make special brands of cigars, such as the “Jose Rizal” brands, the “Army and Navy,” “American Belle,” etc.; but these are comparatively few."

Jose Rizal cigars were a special brand.

There was no way that imported cigars and cigarettes could have been cheap here. That's because "the duty on imported cigars and cigarettes is very high in the Philippines."  That explains why even during our younger days, the "blue seal" was expensive.  

This is the Philippines as smoking country in 1907:  "[T]he output of all of the factories was 197,243,119 cigars and 3,668,379 cigarettes. About two-thirds of the cigars are exported principally to Europe and Australia.  The duty in the United States is prohibitive.  Only 159,000,000 cigarettes were exported; the great bulk of them here were consumed here."

Photos:  All except that of the Yes! Magazine cover were clipped from Navy Guide to Cavite and Manila (1908).

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