By the mid-1920s smoking had become commonplace in the United States and cigarette tobacco was the most popular form of tobacco consumption. At the same time women had just won the right to vote, widows were succeeding their husbands as governors of such states as Texas and Wyoming, and more were attending college and entering the workforce. While women seemed to be making great strides in certain areas, socially they still were not able to achieve the same equality as their male counterparts. Women were only permitted to smoke in the privacy of their own homes. Public opinion and certain legislation at the time did not permit women to smoke in public, and in 1922 a woman from New York City was arrested for lighting a cigarette on the street.
George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company and an eccentric businessman, recognized that an important part of his market was not being tapped into. Hill believed that cigarette sales would soar if he could entice more women to smoke in public.
In 1928 Hill hired Bernays to expand the sales of his Lucky Strike cigarettes. Recognizing that women were still riding high on the suffrage movement, Bernays used this as the basis for his new campaign. He consulted Dr. A.A. Brill, a psychoanalyst, to find the psychological basis for womens smoking. Dr. Brill determined that cigarettes which were usually equated with men, represented torches of freedom for women. The event caused a national stir and stories appeared in newspapers throughout the country. Though not doing away with the taboo completely, Bernays's efforts had a lasting effect on women smoking.