For years, the most popular brands smoked in Ireland were manufactured by the Fianna Fail Company. From the old 'DeValera untipped cancer sticks to 'Haughy's Number ones' and right through to the tipped, smooth but light 'Bertie Blues', F.F. & Co had the market sewn up.
There were other small competing companies like Fine Gael (or Fine Irish Tobacco as they were widely known), and 'Labour Ltd', whose products were coarse and difficult to inhale. These latter cigarettes tended to be favored by left handed people, many with a signature cough. They featured inferior packaging that fell apart easily and their marketing was pathetic.
Smaller companies such as the 'Progressive Desocrats' (who promised a new mould for making cigarettes), were swallowed up by the F.F. Tobacco Company, though they did have minor successes with brands such as 'Hard Harneys' and 'Mature McDowells'. These brands were brilliantly launched with excellent marketing campaigns, but when sampled by the smoking public, they were found to be lacking in flavor, and despite the fancy packaging, the feeling lingered that they were of inferior quality. When the'Progressive Desocrats' were finally taken over by 'Big F.F.', the brand was quickly dropped. The Greens Leaf Company met the same fate too and today, their products are impossible to find anywhere. Rumours abounded that instead of tobacco they used shredded lettuce that left a smell of rotten eggs in the residue smoke. Many got tired of there green label also.
There were a few very small independent growers who tended to market loose tobacco rather than slick packets of twenty. Early users of these products usually mixed some illegal substances with the these rough blends, and rolled something that was entirely unintended by the growers. These Independents tended to go out of business quickly and be replaced by a new crop of Independents who were short lived also. The big boys had the market cornered making it nigh impossible for all newcomers.
The reputation of the Big F.F. Company in the nineties & noughties, as the cigarette favored by the working man, was based on such brands as the "Casual Cowens', 'Mad O'Rourkes', 'Mythical Martins', and the 'Bertie Blues' of course, and were the most popular brands for years in Ireland, selling in their millions.
North of the border, the picture was different though. "The Loyal Unionist Company" had two-thirds of the market share with their bright distinctive orange packaging wrapped in red, white and blue. Smaller brands from the I.R.A. (Intelligent Raspers Association), Ltd like "Armalite Reds" and "Ten Minute Warnings", were becoming popular in some quarters, despite cautions that they were very dangerous cigarettes, especially their "Tenacious Terror" brands, sold in dull black boxes. Stories circulated that they were the only cigarettes available in some parts of West Belfast at one time. But The smaller IRA were taken over in a merger and re-branded as "Sinn Fein, the tobacco for everyone. Although still difficult on the taste buds they began appearing in shops both North & South.
Even though the tobacco market was thriving on both sides of the border, it was widely known that tobacco of any kind was unhealthy and could lead to illness and death in some cases. At the very same time, Big F.F. & Co began dabbling in specialist Havana styled cigars, taking their eye off the humble cigarette. They devoted all of their time and marketing money to the handful of people who could afford these expensive, tasty cigars, thereby alienating the ordinary cigarette smoker who had been loyal to their brands for years. These people in turn, feeling slighted, sampled brands from the other larger tobacco companies such as 'Fine Leaf' & 'Labour Ltd'. Seeing their chance, both companies worked together on new attractive cigarette brands like 'Vain Varadkar' and 'Glib Gilmore' and these were rushed to the market to offer even more choice.
When horror stories about the damage done by the F.F. & Co cigars were made public, Irish smokers in their droves, switched away from the company's products and started to buy literally, anything else. The big winner was the Fine Leaf Company who re-branded their plain 'Cute Kenny' packs as 'Endearing Enda', and took over the top spot as the best selling cigarette in Ireland. Even 'Glib Gilmore's' continued to sell reasonably well, though they were still a harsh smoke and were a bit hard to take. The lower social orders were urged to try 'Bland Burton's', but their quality was inconsistent, and "Shatter Smoothies" turned out to be simply an insipid smoke and was quickly dropped.
But, all is not well with the new brand leaders. Many smokers are turning away from tobacco altogether. Because of the high price we pay for tobacco in Ireland also, many are buying the really cheap smuggled brands like 'Altered Adams' and 'Mary Lou's", thus denying the State of much needed Revenue. And to add to the confusion, plans are afoot to force all tobacco companies to sell their products and brands, in dull grey packets marked 'Europeans'. These dull boxes may require health warnings pointing out the dangers of all cigarettes. Many commentators believe that this might just signal the end of the traditional big tobacco companies in Ireland.
Indeed smoking of any kind is now on the wane and the educated young population appear to want nothing to do with any of them. Many now say that when the going was good, the tobacco companies just lied to us endlessly and as a result, their reputations are tarnished and nobody believes a bloody word they say now.