The year was 1970. Cigarette prices had been steadily climbing throughout the 60’s. Why, they had just hit an obscene 40 cents a pack! Something had to be done.
Thus, the Laredo cigarette rolling machine was released. The plastic device would compress tobacco into a tube of cigarette paper to make a more or less professional smoke. You could add a filter if you like. Laredo sold the machine and the supplies. Killing yourself just became cheaper.
Unfortunately, the history of the Laredo machine is shrouded in mystery. I did find out that it was roughly 1970 when it first appeared, and by the mid 70’s it remained modestly popular. The tobacco section of the drug store featured the machines and the Laredo branded tobacco, as well as complete kits that would produce a carton of smokes.
Personally speaking, I remember seeing one up close in 1972. That was the year that we purchased a farm near Pea Ridge, Arkansas The wife of the owner was a chain smoker, and I recall a Laredo machine sitting on the kitchen table the first time we looked at the house. My mom had quit smoking the year before, and I also noticed a strong tobacco stench in the house that I had once been oblivious to.
I’ve always been fascinated by gadgets, and I stared at that plastic wonder for quite some time.
As sin taxes rose throughout the 70’s, Laredo machine sales remained steady. Technique was everything, though, and an incompetent roller could create “sticks,” as one board commenter I found in my research described them. Cramming too much tobacco into the paper tube would cause the cig to be nearly impossible to draw a breath through.
You could buy a kit to roll a carton of cigarettes for half the price of Marlboros. Thus, the inventive smoker had a way to cut the costs of his/her habit.
Like me, most kids love gadgets, and no doubt a significant number of them were delighted to create smokes for their parents with Laredo machines. One board commenter stated that he would roll out twenty every morning for his father before he went to work.
Laredo owners remained faithful to their brand, and thus the product survived. It never really tore the roof off of the market, neither did it pose any real threat to cigarette manufacturers. Eventually, it disappeared, the process no doubt aided by its original 1970 customers stopping smoking. This choice was either voluntary or not. But the Laredo cigarette machine did provide yet another contribution to the memory banks of those of us who remember JFK, and who were around smoking households in the 70’s.