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This is a virtual 3D reconstruction of an object from the Science Museum’s Medicine Galleries.

A comparison in size between a 19cm human hand and the 8cm packet of cigarettes.
Scale of the object compared with an adult hand.

Curriculum links

About this object

This is a packet of Gold Flake brand cigarettes, made some time between 1920 and 1950 by W D & H O (William Day and Henry Overton) Wills – one of the first companies to mass-produce cigarettes. At that time scientists had not yet identified the dangers of smoking, so cigarette companies were allowed to advertise and promote their products. Most brands’ packets contained collectable cards with pictures of animals, famous buildings or football players and other celebrities, to encourage people to continue buying them. Smoking remained widespread and socially acceptable even after scientists established the link between smoking and lung cancer, in the 1950s.

Smoking today

The link between smoking and health problems including cancer and heart disease is now well established. Since 2008 all tobacco products in the UK have been required to carry health warnings, and since 2015 they have had to be sold in plain packaging. E-cigarettes and vapes are now popular alternatives to smoking, but the risks associated with them are not currently known.

Learn more about this object on the Science Museum Group Collection website.

Discussion questions

  1. How does the design and branding of this packet of cigarettes compare with one from today?
  2. Would you say you’re addicted to your smartphone? Would you find it hard to give it up if smartphones were found to cause a serious illness such as cancer?
  3. Do you think you’ll still be able to buy cigarettes or e-cigarettes in 2050?