Floor Sweepings: Medico Filters- Making a Name Instead of Inheriting It

A MEDICO pipes ad from 1962 courtesy pipedia.

Something about the Medico name makes me feel like the company behind it makes healthy products. You know, like a cancer-stick made and endorsed by a doctor. Try as they might in their advertisements, though, Medico was a cheap, Dr. Grabow-type drugstore brand of pipes was under the purview of S.M. Frank & Company, which otherwise made pipes under the Kaywoodie, Yello-Bole, Reiss-Premier, DeMuth, Heritage and Frank brands. Today, S.M. Frank turns out Kaywoodies, Yello-Boles, Medicos with a headquarters in New Windsor, New York. I had a great Kaywoodie Campus straight bulldog that looked like the bowl of a toilet but was an integral part of my college years! 

Never having smoked one, today I learned that Medico pipes were filtered! In 1933, S.M. Frank introduced a paper filter, along with the new brand. According to Frank’s website, the Medico filter is “the ‘original’ and most absorbent paper filter on the market that is recognized by pipe smokers world-wide.” I guess!

I’m a traditional smoker but also an idiot, so I also recently learned that only two brands of unfiltered cigarettes remain. First I thought this was great news, but then I found the abstract of a research paper titled “Effects of Unfiltered Cigarettes on Smoking Behavior and Toxicant Exposure: Protocol for a Randomized Crossover Clinical Trial” from Eyal Oren, MSc, PhD, a faculty member of the San Diego State University’s School of Public Health along with some others. 

Yawn. We all know that cigarettes are bad, and non-filtered ones are pretty horrible- they’re harsh-tasting and you can’t smoke them for as long. Your nails and fingertips get that tell-tale nicotine color to them and it’s all just an unpleasant experience, much like -hey- smoking a cigarette in general. Props go to B&W for introducing the cork-tipped Viceroy brand in 1936 and upgrading the filters to cellulose acetate in 1952, but the Cowboy Killers weren’t too far behind: Winston, the first successful, mainstream, filtered cigarette, came to market two years later under Marlboro’s purview. 

I get what I’m saying here, of course- It kills to not have a cigarette when you’re craving one, but it also kills -literally- to smoke a cigarette, and filtered cigarettes are just a way for Big Tobaccy to keep that hose unkinked for a little bit longer before we all get blotted out towards that big ashtray in the sky. So in a way- fuck Viceroy and Winston, I guess?

“Plastic filters on cigarette butts are a widespread source of nonbiodegradable, toxic environmental waste,” the abstract of the academic study states. “State and local legislation to ban the sale of single-use cigarettes may be considered to prevent this waste, but scientific evidence on the impact of switching smokers to unfiltered cigarettes on smoking behavior and toxicant exposures is needed to inform this policy.” 

I never considered the thought of filterless cigarettes being good for the environment, but where I live and work and spend most of my time isn’t the environment. It’s the shitty side of a declining city in the mediocre rustbelt of flyover territory. I know it’s bad practice, but whether I toss my butt out the car window on South Grant, South Penn, or South Blaine Street makes no difference towards what I think of as the true environment. As long as I’m not nailing a panda with burning trash thrown from a vehicle moving forty miles an hour through the forest, I think I’m good. 

To my defense, I would not throw a cigarette butt into a forest, desert, waterfall, or prairie. That’s land, by the way, not the blighted, post-industrial urban hellscape found all over my area. 

At any rate, what really struck me from this abstract was the use of  the phrase “single-use cigarette”. Doesn’t that seem to perfectly personify the navel-gazing cluelessness of academia? I, for one, always thought a single-use cigarette was self-evident, sort of like the trash bags I buy every month only to immediately throw into a big can I roll out to the street. But I can admit that I’ve been in binds before where reuse of cigarettes -not trash bags- was necessary, like when a girlfriend and I cobbled together the remains of several out of the ashtray into a horrifying monster that, compared to a normal cigarette, tasted as beef jerky does to a freshly-grilled burger but hit just enough. Those doctoral candidates and professors would shit themselves if they saw our concoction, but we could have used its construction as a graduate-level thesis project of manufacturing given the amount of precise engineering that went into ensuring that the old paper wouldn’t crumble or deform as the used tobacco burned.

Thankfully, I’ve grown from those burdensome times, and I won’t ever smoke a filterless cigarette again. Nowadays, my ire’s been drawn towards filtered pipes: I simply cannot abide by a filtered pipe. Brigham pipes from Canada use rock maple dowels inserted into the shank. Most Savinellis use triangular balsa filters that I pop out and (properly) dispose of, and Medico pipes, for a while at least, used two-and-a-quarter-inch filters (ten for ten cents, along with “Menthol-Cool” filters available at ten for fifteen cents). Menthol in a pipe? I’ll nope-nope-nope myself towards the hinterlands.

As far as the ad’s imagery, look how that prosaic housewife is so happy with Ward Cleaver for helping balance that filter between their fingers in front of a black circle! That’s the kind of relationship I can get behind. I wonder if he’s got a filter in the pipe he’s smoking. 

Judging by the baby boom, he didn’t have a filter in his pants. It’s okay to pull the goalie sometimes! Just not with a Medico pipe, it turns out. 

One thought on “Floor Sweepings: Medico Filters- Making a Name Instead of Inheriting It

  1. I always wondered if pipe smokers ever actually used filters once the supply that came with the pipe was exhausted.

    I had never thought of the environmental benefits of unfiltered cigarettes either. You didn’t mention picking little shreds of tobacco off your tongue – that was the part I couldn’t abide.

    Luckies and Camels as the two survivors? The only others I recall from the 70s-80s were Chesterfield and Pall Mall.


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