“Made from Genuine and Unadulterated Bear Shit” – So reads the side of this cigarette pack label. I sincerely hope this is not a case of truth in advertising. The other side of the label reads “The cigarette that you always wanted to smoke but were afraid to try.” Even after 5 seasons working at a nature center, and having handled quite a bit of excrement – we called it “scat” or, more politely, fertilizer – I would not want the remnants of a bear’s digestive track anywhere near my mouth.
If the idea of flaming poo near your mouth isn’t enticing, the design on the pack is cute as a button (much like the “Cookie Jar” brand, which features a teddy bear). A panda bear is sitting in a patch of bamboo shoots and smoking his favorite brand. From the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eyes, the taste must be wonderful. Then again, he could just be taking a shit.
Chapultepec Zoo Panda
This is part of a series of packs my father picked up in the late 1970s in Tijuana, Mexico. (Check out the “Bull Shit” Cigarette label!) Why, you ask, is there a panda bear on a Mexican cigarette pack? Great question! In 1975, the Chapultepec Zoo received its first pair of pandas – Pepe and Ying Ying – as a gift from the People’s Republic of China, and they proceeded to have Latino panda cubs. That’s a lot of manure for producing Bear Shit cigarettes.
Like the other packs in this series, the Bear Shit label features a friendly description on the reverse. The text praises the pleasant flavor and declares, in English that would make my 4th-grade teacher Mrs. Zisow cringe, “You can’t find this kind of cigarettes in eny other part of the world. If you smock this cigarettes you are going to feel like an other man.” This is a clear example of a Mexican company catering to the American tourist crowd vacationing in Tijuana and elsewhere around the country.
In my summer camp, one of our favorite break activities was a card game called “Bull Shit!” It was all about calling your opponents’ bluffs, and screaming “Bull Shit!” as often as possible. Hmm, I wonder why the counselors didn’t like us…
“Bull Shit!” is one of those inventions of American slang that makes our language so endearing. Allegedly, Leonid Tarassuk, former curator at the Hermitage in Leningrad and noted jokester, fell in love with this phrase when he was fighting against Soviet anti-Semitism and applying to leave the country. It became his favorite slogan, according to Soviet Jewry activist Fabian Kolker, and he stamped it on every visa request the government denied. At some point, he even wore a belt with “Bullshit” engraved on the buckle.
But this pack of cigarettes takes the cake for Bull Shit ingenuity. The label features a bull, you guessed it, fertilizing the field with a patty of his excrement. And he looks so happy, with a smile that reminds me of that look my friend’s baby makes while making a “deposit” in his diaper. This is genius advertising, because the first thing a cigarette smoker wants to be reminded of is that his tobacco was fertilized with poop.
My grandfather got a kick out of these cigarettes and used to show them off. He had a whole series of cigarette packs – including horse shit, rabbit shit, cangaroo [sic] shit, chicken shit, donky [sic] shit, and bear shit – all produced by a tobacco manufacturer in Tijuana. They were gifts from my father and a friend of the family. Yeah, they were real shitty gift-givers.
For fun, check out the text on the back of this pack in the picture below. Apparently, these were real tobacco cigarettes (as indicated by the Mexican tobacco stamp. But the manufacturer had a blast, writing “We ar[sic] happy with Our Cigarettes Shit” and “Bull Shit Cigarettes… You really taste good!…” on the side of the label. These are great gag cigarettes to show your friends, but as the pack warns, you probably wouldn’t want to give them to a young cow in love.
Exciting! A new blog, about the beauty and history of cigarette collections. I’ve already listed the coolest American packs. I’ll get back to talking about them in future posts.
Today, though, we’re taking a trip to the land of the sombrero. Great way to keep the sun out of your eyes!
One of the coolest packs in here actually features a cowboy, or vaquero, sporting a red-and-green sombrero, with his saber drawn and his trusty steed lunging through the air. Where’s he going? Defending Mexican freedom? Fighting for his señorita, his rose growing in the desert? Attacking trespassers on his tobacco field?
Actually, it seems as though he’s about to hack the top of the cactus on the other side of the pack. Hey, maybe he’s thirsty. That cactus holds a lot of water!
Mexico has a lot more to offer than just desert. The Faros Nuevos pack features an ocean liner cutting through the waves of the romantic Caribbean, or perhaps the Pacific. A lighthouse in the background beams light through a rippling sky. Where shall we sail today? Bring me that horizon!
Another stunning cover is the rooster gracing the Soberbios pack. Wake up with a cock-a-doodle-doo! In between feeding the hens and plowing the maize, take a break with a Soberbios smoke.
Check out the other packs in the picture at the top of this post and add your thoughts about them in the comments below!
*Look out for my next post, as we journey to Egypt.