Hunter S. Thompson, who would be seventy-nine today, started smoking Kools when he was a sophomore in high school; he remained loyal to the brand until 1962, when he discovered Dunhills. In 1960, he wrote the letter below to the distribution manager of the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Co. You can read more of Thompson’s early correspondence in The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955–1967. The Paris Review interviewed Thompson in our Fall 2000 issue.
January 15, 1960
164 Ave. Flamboyanes
Hyde Park, Puerto Rico
Brown-Williamson Tobacco Co.
I regret to inform you that Salems have all but swamped Kools in the Puerto Rico cigarette market. I don’t know if this makes much difference to you or not, but let me tell you that it bothers the mortal hell out of me. I’ve been smoking Kools for close to ten years, but down here I’d have an easier time getting a steady supply of reefers. There are god knows how many cigarette machines in San Juan, and in only three of them can I find king-size Kools. This is working a tremendous hardship on me, and I’m writing you in hopes that you’ll do something about it.
I’m quite willing to do my part. If you lack a competent distributor down here, then consider me at your service. Nothing would make me happier than to drive Salems off the market for good and ever. It’s without a doubt the foulest cigarette in the history of tobacco-addicted man—a tasteless mish-mash of paper and dry weeds.
But I have yet to run across a cigarette machine that doesn’t have two racks of Salems. And as I said before, only three that I’ve found contain filter Kools.
There’s no excuse for this kind of negligence on your part. If Kools are deemed too strong for the Puerto Rican taste, then get that hustling huckster Ted Bates on the ball and have him educate these people. He’s not paid to ignore new markets.
As a native of Louisville, and as one of a long line of Brown-Williamson customers—and primarily as a man who will have Kools—I deplore this great vacuum in your distribution. As I said before, I will be glad to help in any way I can. At the moment I’m an associate editor of a new sports magazine here and I’ll be glad to sell you a full-page ad to begin the campaign. Personally, I don’t give a damn if you want the ad or not, but contact me if it interests you.
My primary concern is the frustrating lack of Kools in Puerto Rico. Whatever action you decide to take on this, please let me hear from you.
Hunter S. Thompson