They who smoke tobacco can be compared only to men possessed, who are in need of exorcizing. While their throats belch forth the stinking, poisonous fumes, they remain nonetheless thralls to the tobacco fiend to whom they cling with an idolatrous devotion, exalting him as their god above all others, and striving to entice all they meet to imitate their folly. One thing at least it teaches them, the better to endure the reek of hell.
-- Johann Michael Moscherosch, 1650
Rodrigo de Jerez, who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the New World, stumbled upon a strange practice while exploring Cuba. He saw villagers light dried leaves and hold them to their mouths, alternately blowing on them and inhaling the smoke. These were the same sort of leaves that Arawak Indians had presented to Columbus when he landed in the Bahamas. Europeans would eventually find that the plant was cultivated throughout North and South America. It could be chewed, snorted as a powder, or mixed with a liquid and drunk, but it was generally smoked, either in a pipe or rolled up inside a leaf. The inhabitants of the Antilles often burned the leaves and inhaled the smoke through a Y-shaped tube, which they called tobacco, a term the Spaniards applied to the plant.
Jerez experimented with smoking and found that he liked it. When he returned to his hometown of Ayamonte, he brought some tobacco with him. But fifteenth-century Spaniards were not accustomed to seeing smoke billow from a man's mouth and nose. Suspecting that the Devil was at work, the townspeople consulted a priest, who reported the incident to the Inquisition. As a result, the explorer spent several years in prison.
Jerez's experience was a sign of things to come. Enthusiasm for tobacco has been greeted with hostility, in varying degrees, for five hundred years. Sometimes the reaction has been fierce and repressive, sometimes perfunctory. Attempts to discourage tobacco use have ranged from exhortation to the death penalty. None of these measures prevented the spread of tobacco around the world or steadily rising consumption wherever it was introduced. But no matter how popular tobacco became, a vocal minority continued to condemn smoking as disgusting, immoral, addictive, and unhealthy.
Although most Americans probably think of the anti-smoking movement as something that began in the 1960s, tobacco's contemporary opponents echo complaints first expressed centuries ago. The weed's detractors have long warned that smoking ravages the body, leaving it vulnerable to a variety of ills, including deadly diseases. They have said that it impairs the ability to work and pay taxes, thereby draining the state's coffers and hurting society as a whole. They have strenuously objected to secondhand smoke as a nuisance and a health hazard. They have argued that tobacco use is evidence of madness or possession, since no sane, rational person could possibly choose to continue this vile, self-destructive, inconsiderate, and irresponsible habit. Since the late nineteenth century, they have complained that tobacco companies are luring children into the habit, and they have used that concern to justify restrictions on adults.
Especially striking is the failure of tobacco's opponents to understand its appeal, a blindness that did not begin with Scott Ballin and the Coalition on Smoking or Health. In his 1526 history of the West Indies, Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes wrote, "Among other evil practices, the Indians have one that is especially harmful, the inhaling of a certain kind of smoke which they call tobacco, in order to produce a state of stupor....I cannot imagine what pleasure they derive from this practice." About the same time, Bishop Bartholome de las Casas noted that Spanish settlers in the West Indies had begun to smoke cigars. "I have seen many Spaniards in the Island of Hispaniola who used them and who, when reproached for such a disgusting habit, replied that they found it impossible to give up," he wrote. "I cannot understand what enjoyment or advantage they derive from it."
Others did understand, finding that tobacco was pleasantly stimulating in small doses and calming in larger doses; it also helped relieve fatigue and hunger. Spanish and Portuguese sailors spread the habit by their example and by bringing tobacco plants and seeds back to Europe for cultivation. Since European physicians were eager for new botanical remedies and since the inhabitants of the Americas had long used tobacco to treat a wide range of maladies (including headaches and respiratory problems), the plant came to be viewed as a medicine. Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Lisbon from 1559 to 1561, enthusiastically promoted tobacco as a topical treatment for sores, lesions, tumors, and headaches, sending samples of the plant to Paris. (In recognition of his efforts, his name would be applied to both the tobacco plant's genus, Nicotiana, and its main psychoactive ingredient, nicotine.) In a 1571 book on the medicinal plants of the New World, the renowned University of Seville physician Nicolo Monardes discussed tobacco at length, recommending it as a cure for more than twenty ailments, including coughs, asthma, toothache, headache, stomach cramps, gout, intestinal worms, and cancer. The book was translated into several languages and widely distributed in Europe, boosting tobacco's reputation as a panacea.
James VI, king of Scotland, was not impressed. He detested smoking and watched in disgust as it gained a following in England, where it was tolerated by Elizabeth I, who even let Sir Walter Raleigh smoke in the palace. Shortly after succeeding Elizabeth as James I in 1603, the new king published A Counterblaste to Tobacco, one of the first anti-smoking polemics. James doubted that tobacco was much use as a medicine; in any case, he said, healthy men should not be taking it. He emphasized the plant's uncivilized origins: "Shall we...abase ourselves so farre, as to imitate these beastly Indians?... Why doe we not as well imitate them in walking naked as they doe?...yea why doe we not denie God and adore the Devill as they doe?"
The king worried that dependence on tobacco would make his people unsuited for war -- since they would yearn for the weed during battle -- and deplete their property. (Tobacco was still a luxury; during the Elizabethan period, the historian Egon C. Corti reports, it sold for its weight in silver.) "Is it not the greatest sinne of all," James asked, "that you the people of all sortes of this Kingdome, who are created and ordeined by God to bestowe both your persons and goods for the maintenance both of the honour and safetie of your King and Commonwealth, should disable your selves in both?" Thus he forthrightly asserted a premise that today's anti-smoking activists, who also complain about tobacco's impact on the public treasury, prefer to leave unspoken: that the function of the individual is to serve the state.
James also complained about secondhand smoke, noting the appalling practice of lighting pipes at the dinner table. He averred that many people started smoking as a way of making the smoke of others more tolerable. The wife of a smoker, he said, can either take up a pipe herself and "corrupt her sweete breath therewith, or else resolve to live in perpetuall stinking torment." In short, he concluded, smoking is "a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse."
The king's pamphlet was widely read and prompted a spate of books on tobacco. Most of them, not surprisingly, agreed with him about smoking, though many praised tobacco's medicinal properties. In The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Robert Burton wrote, "A good vomit, I confess, a virtuous herbe, if it be well qualified, opportunely taken, and medicinally used, but, as it is commonly abused by most men, which take it as Tinkers do Ale, 'tis a plague, a mischief, a vicious purger of goods, lands, health, hellish, devilish and damned Tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and Soul."
Despite the complaints, English tobacco consumption soared, encouraged partly by the belief that tobacco smoke helped ward off the plague. James I ordered an increase in the duty on tobacco to discourage smoking, but because of opposition from Parliament the measure was never enforced. The second Virginia colony thrived by growing tobacco. In 1619, to protect the colonial revenue, the king forbade domestic cultivation and made the tobacco trade a royal monopoly. Thus, one of history's most vociferous opponents of smoking recognized the profit in tobacco even as he railed against it. James I was hardly the last ruler to reject smoking but welcome the money it generated.
THE REEK OF HELL
During the seventeenth century, a combination of religious objections, annoyance at tobacco smoke, concern about the fire hazard posed by smoking, and disappointment with tobacco's performance as a medicine generated a backlash against the weed. Among the clergy the controversy centered on tobacco's pagan origins, its addictiveness, its reputed aphrodisiac properties, and its use in church.
The Puritans of New England, who presaged our modern-day ambivalence about drugs, granted tobacco's medicinal value but frowned upon using it as an intoxicant. In the 1630s Massachusetts banned tobacco sales and smoking in public. In 1647 Connecticut passed a law forbidding the use of tobacco in public and restricting even private use to adults above the age of twenty-one who had already acquired the habit or who had obtained a physician's certificate and a court license. These Puritan laws were not seriously enforced, and they were soon repealed or forgotten. But the spirit behind them was apparent in a 1726 book by Cotton Mather offering guidance to ministerial candidates. In the section on "Rules of Health," he warned: "If once you get into the way of Smoking, there will be extreme hazard, of your becoming a Slave to the Pipe; and ever Insatiably craving for it. People may think what they will; But such a Slavery, is much below the Dignity of a Rational Creature; and much more of a Gracious Christian."
Tobacco's more fervent detractors identified it as the Devil's weed. In 1650 Johann Michael Moscherosch addressed those who had acquired the smoking habit "through the cunning wiles of the Devil": "Consider well, beloved mortals, brothers and sisters in your madness, how the Devil hath deceived you! For even as they who grow fat and fleshy through much gluttony do clearly show that their god is their belly, so you, who use the filthy weed, do fill yourselves with the spirit of fire, and belch forth from your mouths the smoke of perdition."
Others, in an argument with a more contemporary ring (it would be familiar to NPR's Susan Stamberg), condemned smoking as a kind of suicide. "What difference is there between a smoker and a suicide," asked the Jesuit priest Jakob Balde in 1658, "except that the one takes longer to kill himself than the other? Because of this perpetual smoking, the pure oil of the lamp of life dries up and disappears, and the fair flame of life itself flickers out and goes out, all because of this barbarous habit."
Tobacco's opponents were especially offended by smoking and snuff taking in church. The spitting and smoke associated with tobacco use dirtied church property and created an unpleasant odor. Furthermore, priests who inhaled snuff prior to Mass ran the risk of expelling the host by sneezing or spitting during communion. In 1642 Pope Urban VIII issued a bull that threatened excommunication of priests who "take tobacco in leaf, in powder, in smoke by mouth or nostrils in any of the churches of Seville, [or] throughout the archbishopric." Eight years later, his successor, Innocent X, applied the same rule to St. Peter's Church in Rome.
In the seventeenth century, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, the Swiss National Assembly, and other authorities banned "tobacco drinking" under threat of fines, but smoking continued unabated. Indeed, the habit proved resistant to far more heavy-handed attempts at suppression. In 1633, after hearing dissidents in tobacco houses denounce his government, the Turkish sultan Murad IV forbade smoking under pain of death and ordered the demolition of all places where people met to smoke. The sultan liked to visit the coffeehouses of Constantinople incognito; anyone he saw smoking would turn up dead the next morning. Blood lust and paranoia were not the only reasons for Murad the Cruel's enthusiastic pursuit of smokers: the assets of executed smokers, like the assets of drug offenders in twentieth-century America, became the property of the state. During military campaigns Murad would catch soldiers in the act of smoking and order their immediate execution by hanging, beheading, or quartering. Sometimes he would have their hands and feet crushed and leave them on the battlefield to die. In The Balance of Truth (1656), the Turkish writer Katib Chelebi reports that during Murad's campaign against Baghdad fifteen to twenty officers were tortured to death for smoking at one resting place. But as the sultan's repression intensified, Chelebi notes, "so did people's desire to smoke...."Men desire what is forbidden," and many thousands of men were sent to the abode of nothingness." The Turkish ban on smoking was repealed by Mohammed IV, himself a smoker, who became sultan in 1648. Smokers had the last laugh in 1900 when Murads, a brand of Turkish cigarettes, appeared on the market.
Brutal methods also failed to eradicate smoking in Russia. Czar Michael, whose rule began in 1613, declared smoking a deadly sin and made possession of tobacco a crime. Arrested smokers could expect to be flogged or have their lips slit. Repeat offenders might be exiled to Siberia, in which case their property would go to the czar. A 1643 visitor to Moscow later described enforcement of the tobacco ban: "Offenders are usually sentenced to slitting of the nostrils, the bastinado, or the knout; those convicted of taking snuff have their noses torn away. We ourselves have met with many victims of these forms of torture, which were inflicted alike on men and women." Still, smoking persisted, and the ban was eventually lifted by Peter the Great, who ascended the throne in 1689. Like Mohammed IV, he was a smoker.
European governments increasingly recognized that so hardy a habit could be a valuable source of revenue. In 1629 Louis XIII, at the recommendation of his first minister, Cardinal Richelieu, imposed a duty of thirty sols on every pound of tobacco imported into France. Richelieu disapproved of smoking and hoped to discourage the habit through taxation, but his policies established a link between the French treasury and tobacco consumption that continues to this day. Two centuries later Napoleon III would observe: "This vice brings in one hundred million francs in taxes every year. I will certainly forbid it at once -- as soon as you can name a virtue that brings in as much revenue." In the mid-seventeenth century several Italian republics established tobacco monopolies that became a model for the rest of Europe. Monopolies in the importation and sale of tobacco could be operated by the government or farmed out for large fees. The government monopolies proved so lucrative that they persisted in several European countries late into the twentieth century.
Although Louis XIV hated tobacco, he dared not ban it, since this would have meant giving up the money from the state monopoly. Nevertheless, he encouraged his court physician, Fagon, who shared his views, to speak out against the increasingly popular weed. During a debate at the Paris School of Medicine in 1699, Fagon offered an eloquent version of contemporary warnings about nicotine addiction, describing the tobacco habit as fatal yet somehow irresistible: "Who is the rash man that first tasted a poison that is more dangerous than hemlock, deadlier than opium? When he opened his snuff-box, did he not know that he was opening Pandora's box, from which would spring a thousand ills, one worse than another? Assuredly, when we try it for the first time, we feel an uneasiness that tells us that we have taken poison....When, unfortunately, against all advice, he falls under this dangerous habit, all reasoning, all warning, is in vain. He cannot shake off his enemy....All other pleasures bring satiety, which weakens their ill effects; tobacco alone becomes a fatal, insatiable necessity. It has been said that love is a brief epileptic fit, but smoking is a permanent epilepsy."
Both Fagon and his master were dismayed by the increasingly common sight of dignified aristocrats removing scented, ground tobacco from little boxes and snorting the powder into their noses. Snuff, which the Spanish royal monopoly was manufacturing by the second half of the seventeenth century, was soon being produced throughout Europe. European sophisticates eagerly adopted dainty snuff rituals and collected elaborately decorated snuff boxes. During the eighteenth century snuffs popularity in trend-setting France and its association with clergy and royalty helped make it the most fashionable way to consume tobacco.
From a contemporary perspective the popularity of snuff is hard to understand (though it is not so different from the more recent fashion of inhaling cocaine powder). Snuff stained fingers and clothes, brought on sneezing fits and runny noses, and impaired the sense of smell. Nevertheless, it had several advantages over smoking as then practiced. In those days smoking was associated with a great deal of spitting, and lighting a pipe required an existing flame or the skillful application of flint and steel. Those who were concerned about the ill effects of smoking viewed snuff as safer, and its tendency to induce sneezing was considered beneficial, helping to rid the body of "corrupt humours." Finally, as the German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch observes, in an era when olfactory assaults were constant, an impaired sense of smell was probably a welcome side effect.
In 1725, bowing to fashion, Pope Benedict XIII decided to permit the use of snuff in St. Peter's Church, lifting the ban imposed seventy-five years before by Innocent X. In 1779 the Vatican opened its own tobacco factory. Snuff's triumph was so dramatic that in 1773 Samuel Johnson declared: "Smoking has gone out. To be sure, it is a shocking thing, blowing smoke out of our mouths into other people's mouths, eyes, and noses, and having the same thing done to us. Yet I cannot account, why a thing which requires so little exertion, and yet preserves the mind from total vacuity, should have gone out." His ambivalent announcement of smoking's demise turned out to be premature -- its greatest popularity still lay ahead -- but he was right that many people would continue to find it shocking.
A form of cigar -- tobacco wrapped in vegetable matter -- had long been consumed by the Indians of South America, and Spanish settlers imitated the practice. But the ready-made cigar in a tobacco-leaf wrapper did not gain a large following until the beginning of the nineteenth century. French and British soldiers fighting in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars learned to smoke cigars and helped popularize them upon returning home. Cigars were more compact, portable, and convenient than the pipe; they became even easier to smoke after the invention of the friction-activated phosphorous match in 1827. In England and France cigars became so fashionable that they rehabilitated smoking for the upper classes, much as they would in the United States during the 1990s. A "smoking room" was established in the House of Commons in the 1820s, and smoking compartments were introduced on English railways in 1868.
Smokers were still hemmed in by taboos and restrictions. Queen Victoria hated tobacco, especially when it was smoked. Royal guests who smoked had to exhale into fireplaces. And though men of high rank could smoke without raising eyebrows, smoking by women was still seen as low-class behavior.
Smoking was considered improper on the street and in other public places that were not set aside for the purpose. In the German states, police imposed heavy fines for smoking in the street, which was deemed hazardous as well as indecent. But the rule was unpopular and frequently broken. In Prussia, Corti writes, "smoking in public was often regarded as a demonstration against the system of government. Just as anyone who wore a soft felt hat instead of the fashionable top-hat was suspected of holding revolutionary views, everyone smoking in the streets was regarded as a dangerous democrat." The idea of smoking as a political statement would have seemed bizarre a few decades ago, but it is not so implausible in the current atmosphere of intolerance, which has transformed smoking into an act of protest against the meddling of bureaucrats and busybodies.
In the United States, opposition to tobacco was closely tied to the temperance movement -- a link that continues today, with groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest railing alternately against drinking and smoking. The eighteenth-century physician Benjamin Rush, who declared alcoholism a disease, conceded tobacco's medical utility but cautioned against casual use, which he said could lead to impaired appetite, indigestion and other stomach disorders, tremors, palsy, apoplexy, tooth loss, and cancer of the lip. Rush, who had earlier described the inexorable slide into habitual drunkenness among those who developed a taste for liquor, said "the progress of habit in the use of Tobacco is exactly the same." Furthermore, he claimed, chewing or smoking tobacco contributes to drunkenness by creating a peculiar kind of thirst: "This thirst cannot be allayed by water, for no sedative or even insipid liquor will be relished after the mouth and throat have been exposed to the stimulus of the smoke, or juice of Tobacco. A desire of course is excited for strong drinks, and these when taken between meals soon lead to intemperance and drunkenness."
Rush's arguments had a strong influence on nineteenth-century anti-alcohol crusaders, who echoed his charge that tobacco use encourages drinking. In 1829 the respectable Journal of Health endorsed the notion: "The almost constant thirst occasioned by smoking and chewing has, in numerous instances, it is to be feared, led to the intemperate use of ardent spirits." The journal's explanation of this phenomenon repeated Rush's claim almost verbatim. J. Smyth Rogers, a physician and professor of chemistry and pharmacy, expressed the same concern in a lecture before the New York Anti-Tobacco Society, published as an essay in 1836. "INTEMPERANCE," he said, "owes thousands of its victims to indulgence in tobacco....The direct effects of tobacco are to produce a love, -- a craving I may say, for strong drinks." Rogers drew an analogy between tobacco and opium, saying that both produce tolerance (larger doses are required to achieve the same effect), both act as stimulants in small amounts and depressants in large amounts, and both produce initially pleasant effects but take their toll in the long run. "There is scarcely to be found a practical writer on medical subjects, who does not bear witness to the frequent occurrence of the most grave and alarming consequences from [tobacco's] employment," he wrote, "and they all unite in declaring, that the general tendency of tobacco in any form, is to prostrate the powers of life, and to bring on ultimate disease." In addition to drunkenness, Rogers said, tobacco use can lead to "vertigo, loss of appetite, tremors, and prostration of strength" as well as "dyspepsia, with its dire train; atrophy, consumption, palsy, [and] prostration of the mental with the bodily powers."
One of the most fervid opponents of tobacco was the Reverend George Trask of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, a former smoker who called himself the Anti-Tobacco Apostle. In the first issue of his Anti-Tobacco Journal he described his conversion: "Ten years ago I was a victim of tobacco, -- a tremulous, haggard clergyman, on the verge of the grave. I relinquished the poison; God smiled upon me, and I have been a robust and active man ever since; all who know me can testify. Believing then, as I now do, that Tobacco is as great a curse as can be named, I gave myself to battling it without compromise." In 1850 Trask founded the American Anti-Tobacco Society, which he served as president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and auditor. The purpose of the society, he explained, was to "break up a death-like prevalent stupidity in relation to the evils of tobacco" and "create a public conscience, which, we trust in God, will lead to the removal of so great a curse." Like contemporary anti-smokers, Trask had little patience with people who did not share his sense of urgency: "A smoking clergyman observes, 'I see no harm in smoking.' -- 'No harm in smoking!' Smoking only leads to drinking -- drinking to intoxication -- intoxication to bile -- bile to indigestion -- indigestion to consumption -- consumption to death -- nothing more!" The Anti-Tobacco Journal, which appeared sporadically between 1859 and 1873, presented a daunting array of warnings about tobacco's effects, ranging from the dubious (delirium tremens) to the plausible (cancer of the lip and tongue). The list of problems attributed to tobacco began to resemble the list of ailments it once had been said to cure.
In addition to publishing the journal, Trask distributed anti-tobacco tracts, addressed schools and colleges around the country, and urged young people to take the Band of Hope pledge: "I hereby solemnly promise to abstain from the use of all Intoxicating Liquors as a beverage; I also promise to abstain from the use of Tobacco in all forms, and all Profane Language." Like activists in the temperance movement, which despite its name was soon dominated by an absolutist philosophy, Trask rejected the idea of moderation and insisted on total abstinence. In 1852 he published Thoughts and Stories on Tobacco for American Lads; or Uncle Toby's Anti-Tobacco Advice to his Nephew Billy Bruce, a series of fictitious letters chronicling the evils of tobacco. Uncle Toby warned that tobacco leads to drunkenness ("I call Tobacco and Rum Siamese Twins"), uncleanliness, acute poisoning, addiction, poverty, crime, and spiritual corruption.
Despite his extreme rhetoric and hyperbolic claims, Trask was by no means an isolated oddball. The appendix to Thoughts and Stories on Tobacco for American Lads includes messages from such prominent figures as Horace Mann, P. T. Barnum, and John Quincy Adams. The Anti-Tobacco Journal printed letters from grateful clergymen, educators, and physicians throughout the country. But during a period when Americans were occupied by the momentous issues of slavery and the Union's future, it became increasingly hard for people like Trask to get a hearing. "This cause encounters scorn and derision," he complained in 1860. "It has been laughed at by superficial men, in the church and out of it, from Maine to Georgia, from Plymouth Rock to California. We have needed temples of brass -- we have needed faith in God like Abraham's, to brave this tide of sarcasm and nonsense." The next issue of the journal did not appear for more than a decade, and by December 1873 Trask had discontinued publication again due to lack of support.
Had Trask waited another decade, he would have had a new target, a menace from abroad that was corrupting the youth of America. Although cigarettes, like cigars, originated in South America, it was not until after they became fashionable in London that Americans started smoking them. When cigarettes were introduced in the United States, chewing tobacco was more popular than cigars, pipes, or snuff. It remained the leading form of tobacco until the turn of the century, but cigarettes began making inroads in the 1870s. The first U.S. cigarettes were produced in 1869 by F. S. Kinney and Company of New York, which used flue-cured American tobacco, an innovation that made the smoke much milder. During the next decade three other companies opened cigarette factories in New York, Rochester, and Richmond.
In 1881 James B. Duke decided that his family's tobacco company, based in Durham, North Carolina, should get into the cigarette business. That same year, a Virginian named James Bonsack invented a machine that could produce 100,000 to 120,000 cigarettes a day, replacing the labor of thirty to forty workers. Duke immediately ordered two Bonsack machines and eventually obtained the exclusive right to use the invention. Introduction of the machine cut production costs by more than 50 percent. By 1889 Duke, Sons & Co. was the largest cigarette producer in the world. It eventually became the huge American Tobacco Company, which in 1911 was broken up by a federal antitrust lawsuit into several components, including a smaller company of the same name, R. J. Reynolds, British-American Tobacco, Lorillard, and Liggett & Myers. Another familiar name, Philip Morris, has been an independent company since it was established in 1902.
Mechanized production made it possible for cigarettes to become a mass-market product. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been tracking domestic cigarette consumption since the late nineteenth century, and dividing this number by the adult population (eighteen and older) gives a good measure of the product's popularity. Per capita consumption of cigarettes, about 0.4 in 1870, rose to 8.2 in 1880 and 35.5 in 1890 -- roughly a hundredfold increase over twenty years. By 1910 cigarettes had become the most widely used form of tobacco. Per capita consumption skyrocketed from 85.5 that year to nearly 1,000 in 1930.
The mildness and low cost of cigarettes expanded the appeal of smoking, to the consternation of those who had always condemned the habit. But alarm about the new "cigarette fiends" was not limited to die-hard anti-tobacco crusaders. Many cigar and pipe smokers (correctly) perceived cigarettes as more addictive and hazardous than the products they used. "The cigarette is designed for boys and women," the New York Times declared in 1884. "The decadence of Spain began when the Spaniards adopted cigarettes, and if this pernicious practice obtains among adult Americans the ruin of the Republic is close at hand."
At first the anti-cigarette movement focused on restricting chlldren's access to cigarettes. "There is no question that demands more public attention than the prevailing methods of cigarette manufacturers to foster and stimulate smoking among children," an angry New Yorker said in 1888, expressing a complaint that has become familiar in the century since. "At the office of a leading factory in this city you can see any Saturday afternoon a crowd of children with vouchers clamoring for the reward of self-inflicted injury." He was referring to the coupons that smokers could collect and exchange for prizes such as pocket knives and lithograph albums. Pioneered by James Duke, these coupons were the precursors to contemporary promotional devices such as "Camel cash" and "Merit awards," which also have been criticized as enticements to children.
By 1890, twenty-six states had passed laws banning cigarette sales to minors, but many children continued to smoke. Charles B. Hubbell was one of many educators who spoke out against smoking by minors. "The cigaret habit," he wrote in 1904, "is more devastating to the health and morals of boys and young men than any habit or vice that can be named....Once the cigaret habit becomes established its servitude is almost certain and unending." Hubbell rejected widespread rumors that cigarette papers were impregnated with poison and that cigarettes contained opium, noting that it would hardly make sense to substitute a costlier drug for tobacco. He explained that the cigarette habit is dangerous not because of additives but because, unlike other modes of tobacco consumption, it involves taking smoke into the lungs. (He hastened to add that he did not object to the "rational, reasonable, and normal use of tobacco" -- in cigars, pipes, or chaw -- by adults, which he said appeared to be "comparatively harmless.") Hubbell said the cigarette not only hurt boys physically, leaving their health "more or less shattered, but also corrupted them morally. He recalled that during his service as president of New York City's Board of Education, "it was found that nearly all of the incorrigible truants were cigaret fiends." He added that "the Police Magistrates of this and other cities have stated again and again that the majority of juvenile delinquents appearing before them are cigaret fiends whose moral nature has been warped or destroyed through the instrumentality of this vice."
Saving children from such a fate became the mission of Lucy Page Gaston, an Illinois teacher and journalist who has been described as the Carry Nation of the anti-cigarette movement. She appears in a photograph accompanying a story entitled "Killing the Cigaret Habit" in the December 6, 1913, issue of the Literary Digest. In the foreground D. H. Kress, a physician who served as general secretary of the Chicago Anti-Cigarette League, is swabbing the tongue of a boy named Tommy Donnahue with a silver-nitrate solution intended to discourage smoking. Tommy, who wears a crew cut and a messenger's uniform, sits with his hands on his legs and his shoulders hunched, gazing off into the distance and opening his mouth compliantly. The dark-suited, gray-haired doctor looks at him benignly, one hand on the boy's chin, the other holding the swab. In the background, holding a glass of the silver-nitrate solution, sits a middle-aged woman wearing a long-sleeved dress, granny glasses, and a tight bun of dark hair. Her mouth is a straight line between sunken cheeks as she stares at the boy. Her expression makes you glad you are not Tommy Donnahue.
Gaston, who was born in Ohio in 1860 and grew up in Illinois, began her social-reform work as a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which opposed smoking as well as drinking. While studying at the Illinois State Normal School, she led raids on local taverns and tobacco shops. She launched her anti-cigarette campaign in the 1890s, urging boys and girls in schools and churches to abstain from smoking and leading them in the "Clean Life Pledge": "I hereby pledge myself with the help of God to abstain from all intoxicating liquors as a beverage and from the use of tobacco in any form." (This pledge was less demanding than the one George Trask had urged, since it left the kids free to continue swearing.) In 1899 Gaston founded the Chicago Anti-Cigarette League, which became the model for similar groups throughout the country. In 1901 several hundred anti-cigarette groups joined together under Gaston's leadership to form the National Anti-Cigarette League, which claimed a membership of nearly three hundred thousand. The organization, which later became the Anti-Cigarette League of America and then the International Anti-Cigarette League, aimed not just to prevent children from smoking but to completely eliminate cigarettes.
In response to intense lobbying by Gaston and her fellow activists, almost every state considered some form of anti-cigarette legislation. Between 1893 and 1909, fourteen states and one territory (Oklahoma) enacted laws banning the sale -- and, in some cases, possession -- of cigarettes. Two other states, Tennessee and West Virginia, imposed prohibitive taxes. Such laws were supported not only by Gastonites but also by the cigar industry, which saw its business slipping away to a new competitor. Washington passed the first anti-cigarette law in 1893, followed by North Dakota in 1895, Iowa in 1896, and Tennessee in 1897.
In Austin v. Tennessee, a distributor who was fined for buying cigarettes from a North Carolina factory and shipping them to his business in Tennessee challenged that state's law on constitutional grounds, arguing that it infringed on Congress's authority to regulate interstate commerce. In 1898 the Supreme Court of Tennessee rejected that claim and upheld the law as a public health measure. "Are cigarettes legitimate articles of commerce?" the court asked. It then supplied the answer: "We think they are not because they are wholly noxious and deleterious to health. Their use is always harmful; never beneficial. They possess no virtue, but are inherently bad, bad only. They find no true commendation for merit or usefulness in any sphere. On the contrary, they are widely condemned as pernicious altogether. Beyond any question, their every tendency is toward the impairment of physical health and mental vigor." Since tobacco's contemporary opponents likewise argue that cigarettes are "inherently bad, bad only," it is instructive that Tennessee's highest court -- in an era when judges took constitutional limits more seriously than they do nowadays -- thought cigarettes could be banned because they had no redeeming value.
On appeal in 1900, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Tennessee could not constitutionally prevent cigarettes bound for other states from crossing its borders, but it could control them once they left their original shipping containers. The Court did not offer its own assessment of cigarettes, yielding instead to the judgment of the state legislature that they threatened public health. The decision gave a boost to the anti-cigarette movement, encouraging passage of more bans and stricter enforcement of the existing laws.
During this period cigarettes attracted a host of epithets: coffin nails, little white slavers, dope sticks, paper pills, brain capsules, coffin pills, Devil's kindling wood. Among other things, they were said to cause stunted growth, weakened immunity, insomnia, shattered nerves, shaky hands, poor motor coordination, heart palpitations, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, lowered vitality, restlessness, drunkenness, and impaired mental ability. Although research and experience have provided evidence for some of these claims, many of them seem quaint today. This is particularly true of the allegation that smoking cigarettes causes brain damage. I have had a large experience in brain diseases, and I am satisfied that smoking is a most noxious habit," a British physician said in a pamphlet published by the Chicago Anti-Cigarette League in 1900." I know of no other cause or agent that so much tends to bring on functional disease, and through this in the end to lead to organic disease of the brain." An American physician warned, "The use of tobacco in any form previous to sixteen years of age has an undoubted tendency to lower very materially the mental force and acumen, and to render the user a person without ambition, and may even cause insanity or death."
Our Bodies and How We Live, an elementary school textbook published in 1910, warned: "The cells of the brain may become poisoned from tobacco. The ideas may lack clearness of outline. The will power may be weakened, and it may be an effort to do the routine duties of life....The memory may also be impaired....The honors of the great schools, academies, and colleges are very largely taken by the abstainers from tobacco....The reason for this is plain. The mind of the habitual user of tobacco is apt to lose its capacity for study or successful effort. This is especially true of boys and young men. The growth and development of the brain having been once retarded, the youthful user of tobacco has established a permanent drawback which may hamper him all his life. The keenness of his mental perception may be dulled and his ability to seize and hold an abstract thought may be impaired."
Although cigarettes would later be seen as an aid to concentration perfectly compatible with work, turn-of-the-century critics tied them to distraction and idleness. The cigarette smokers depicted by these writers resemble the dull and lazy marijuana smokers in contemporary anti-drug commercials. "The time is already at hand when smokers will be barred out of positions which demand quick thought and action," wrote Charles B. Towns, operator of a New York drug and alcohol hospital, in March 1912. The biologist David Starr Jordan similarly advised: "The boy who smokes cigarettes need not be anxious about his future. He has none." The notion that smokers do not make fit employees was promoted by prominent businessmen. In 1914 Henry Ford published a booklet called The Case Against the Little White Slaver, which included condemnations of cigarettes from entrepreneurs, educators, community leaders, and athletes. "If you will study the history of almost any criminal you will find that he is an inveterate cigarette smoker," Ford averred. "Boys, through cigarettes, train with bad company. They go with other smokers to the pool rooms and saloons. The cigarette drags them down." Thomas Edison (himself a cigar smoker and tobacco chewer) noted the well-known brain degeneration associated with cigarettes: "Unlike most narcotics, this degeneration is permanent and uncontrollable. I employ no person who smokes cigarettes."
pardLike Edison, Towns labeled tobacco a narcotic. As J. Smyth Rogers had in 1836, he compared tobacco to opium, widely condemned as a drug of foreigners and criminals. And following in the footsteps of Benjamin Rush, he charged that tobacco leads to alcohol and alcohol leads to morphine -- an early version of what today is called the "gateway" or "stepping-stone" theory. Towns also anticipated later anti-drug propaganda by confusing correlation with causation: "The action of any narcotic is to break down the sense of moral responsibility. If a father finds that his boy is fibbing to him, is difficult to manage, or does not wish to work, he will generally find that the boy is smoking cigarettes....The action of a narcotic produces a peculiar cunning and resource in concealment." Noting the rudeness of smokers who light up despite the complaints of bystanders, Towns concluded that "callous indifference to the rights of others" was another effect of the drug.
Annoyance about exposure to tobacco smoke was a significant element in the anti-cigarette movement, though not as important as it would later become. Like the activists of the 1980s and '90s, the people who were most irked by secondhand smoke argued that it violated their rights. In 1911 Charles G. Pease, a New York physician, founded the Non-Smokers Protective League of America to lobby for stricter enforcement of the city's bans on smoking in public waiting rooms and on streetcars and trains. He explained his group's position in a November 10, 1911, letter to the New York Times: "The right of each person to breathe and enjoy fresh and pure air -- air uncontaminated by unhealthful or disagreeable odors and fumes -- is a constitutional right, and cannot be taken away by legislatures and courts, much less by individuals pursuing their own thoughtless or selfish indulgence." Towns had the same complaint: "On all sides, the attitude seems to be, 'What right has anyone to object to my smoking!' The matter is really on just the opposite basis: 'What right has anyone to smoke, when other people object to it?'"
This sentiment was shared by many who did not otherwise oppose smoking. In 1904 Harper's Weekly observed that "the standard of manners among smokers seems to be low. The men who bring lighted cigars into street-cars and smoke in the face of every passenger who crowds past them to get on or off, clearly and scandalously disregard the rights of others....These street-car smokers ought not to be tolerated." In 1924 the Literary Digest noted that "smoking is now the rule, and the inhalation of smoke from the surrounding atmosphere is compulsory if refuges are not provided."
I LIKE IT
As the complaints about secondhand smoke indicate, despite all the agitation, legislation, and condemnation, smoking continued to rise. Although there was considerable sympathy for preventing children from smoking and confining the practice to appropriate places, the extravagant claims of the anti-cigarette movement met with disbelief. Harper's Weekly was expressing skepticism as early as 1900. "All hostility to tobacco seems nowadays to be concentrated on cigarettes," the magazine noted in 1905. "Time was when it was thought expedient to discourage tobacco-chewing. It was denounced as a filthy habit -- and it is pretty filthy -- but it was never charged, as cigarettes are now charged, with withering the mental faculties and destroying the moral fibre of men....How deadly cigarettes are to the average consumer we don't know, but the London Lancet has declared that they are not nearly so bad as their reputation is, and we suspect that they are more maligned than they deserve."
So did many others. The general lack of enthusiasm for the anti-cigarette cause is illustrated by a poem that appeared in the Penn State Froth in 1915:
Tobacco is a dirty weed. I like it.
It satisfies no normal need. I like it.
It makes you thin, it makes you lean,
It takes the hair right off your bean,
It's the worst darn stuff I've ever seen.
I like it.
In the states that had banned possession of cigarettes, the courts often proved unwilling to apply the law to consumers, who were then free to obtain cigarettes by mail. Even dealers found that they were unlikely to be prosecuted, and cigarette consumption climbed despite the bans. Indiana repealed its cigarette ban in 1909, followed by Washington in 1911, Minnesota in 1913, Wisconsin and Oklahoma in 1915, and South Dakota in 1917.
American soldiers in Europe found that cigarettes helped pass the time and calm their nerves. Tobacco's value in wartime was not a new discovery. In 1798 Benjamin Rush had remarked that "fear creates a desire for tobacco. Hence it is used in a greater quantity by soldiers and sailors than by other classes of people." James I might have worried that dependence on tobacco would be a liability in battle, but fighting men through the centuries have disagreed, which is why wars have so often been followed by surges in tobacco use. "In time of war," writes Richard Klein in Cigarettes Are Sublime, "it is with gratitude and love that one holds, between fingers and lips, the small, compact cylinder of paper and tobacco -- cinder, fire, ash -- like worry beads, rosary, or some other divine consoler: a little daemon, mediator of the gods, and a most intimate friend, a companion who never falls to speak to the loneliness of the self in moments of greatest heroism or of empty or splenetic boredom." During World War I, General John J. Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American forces in France, cabled Washington, "Tobacco is as indispensable as the daily ration; we must have thousands of tons of it without delay." Tobacco companies sent cigarettes overseas with much hoopla and featured soldiers in their ads. Thus, cigarettes came to be identified with patriotism, and U.S. troops brought the habit home with them after the war.
Another sign of the cigarette's new respectability was its growing popularity among women. At first the Victorian taboo against smoking by women prevailed in the United States as well as England. In 1900 Harper's Weekly observed that "reputable and well-mannered American women rarely smoke nowadays....The general sentiment among our women is that for women to smoke is vulgar. Whether it is all merely a matter of habit and custom, or whether women's occupations and environments are such that they have less need of tobacco than men, let the learned discuss. All we know is that as a rule men smoke and women don't, and we wonder why women are so docile about it."
They did not remain docile for long. In 1908 the New York City Board of Aldermen approved a ban on public smoking by women. Although the ordinance was vetoed by the mayor two weeks later, at least one woman, Katie Mulcahey, was arrested by an overzealous policeman for violating the rule. "No man shall dictate to me," she declared. In 1910 Harper's Weekly reported, "Dealers say that women cigarette-smokers are increasing in number tremendously every year." In a development that would inspire a memorable ad campaign for Virginia Slims ("You've come a long way, baby"), the cigarette became identified with the movement for sexual equality. "For a woman," said an Atlantic Monthly writer in 1916, "it is the symbol of emancipation, the temporary substitute for the ballot."
According to one estimate, women accounted for 5 percent of U.S. tobacco consumption in 1924, 12 percent in 1929, and 14 percent in 1931. A 1935 survey by Fortune found that more than 26 percent of women over the age of 40 smoked. Taking advantage of this trend, the tobacco companies began gearing their ads toward women. A 1919 ad for the Lorillard brand Helmar's depicted a woman with a cigarette between her lips. A 1926 ad for Chesterfields showed a man smoking while his lady friend said, "Blow some my way." Philip Morris was more direct in a 1927 Marlboro ad that showed a woman smoking and announced, "Women, when they smoke at all, quickly develop discriminating taste." Beginning in 1928, Lucky Strike ads urged women to "Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet." In 1929 R. J. Reynolds ran an ad playing off its familiar Camel slogan: it showed a woman offering a cigarette to a man who responds, "I'd Walk a Mile for a Camel -- but a 'Miss' Is as Good as a Mile."
Even people who were willing to tolerate smoking by men drew the line when the cigarette became a menace to womanhood. "Women smokers, young and old, are increasing in legions," a 1922 article in the Ladies' Home Journal entitled "Women Cigarette Fiends" reported with alarm. "In New York City, women smoke everywhere, even on the streets. It is not an uncommon sight to see women atop Fifth Avenue busses puffing away at their cigarettes. The theaters are opening smoking rooms for women, and during intermission it is no longer unusual to find women smoking in the lobbies or on the sidewalks with men." The author explained that women smoked only because it was fashionable to defy convention, not because they enjoyed it. Furthermore, he said, women's weaker constitutions left them more vulnerable to the hazards of smoking. The article quoted Samuel Lambert, former physician to Theodore Roosevelt: "Intemperate smoking causes nervousness and may lead to something worse. Women who use cigarettes cannot be temperate. At best it is a horrible weed and should be let alone. It fouls the breath and makes women unwomanly." We may smile at the patronizing tone of such warnings, but much of today's anti-smoking propaganda is remarkably similar in spirit, portraying women as vulnerable and smoking as unfeminine.
The focus on women -- suggesting that tobacco's enemies had basically given up on men -- was a sign that the broader battle against the cigarette had already been lost. After ratification of National Alcohol Prohibition in 1919, there was speculation that the temperance movement would press for a Nineteenth Amendment outlawing smoking. "Prohibition is won," announced the evangelist Billy Sunday. "Now for tobacco." But the Women's Christian Temperance Union rejected that course, choosing instead to continue its anti-smoking propaganda campaign. Although Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, and Tennessee repealed their cigarette bans after the war, the anti-smoking movement managed to achieve passage of two new state laws. One, a ban on cigarette sales passed by Idaho in 1921, was repealed almost immediately. The other, a ban on cigarette sales and public smoking backed by the Mormon Church, was approved by the Utah legislature in 1921 but was not initially enforced. When Salt Lake County Sheriff Benjamin R. Harries, who won election on a promise to take Utahs ban on public smoking seriously, staged a crackdown in 1923, arresting three prominent citizens who had lit up in a restaurant, he prompted a storm of criticism. In the face of nationwide ridicule and open rebellion by the state's citizens, the Utah legislature quickly legalized cigarette sales to adults and sharply cut back the restrictions on smoking.
Lucy Page Gaston continued to campaign against cigarettes after the war, but it soon became clear that her time had passed. On December 31, 1919, she was ousted from the International Anti-Cigarette League. The next day, Gaston announced that she was running for president on a platform of "clean morals, clean food and fearless law enforcement." She withdrew from the race six months later and formed a new group with a recycled name -- the National Anti-Cigarette League. In 1920 she went to Kansas to lobby for stricter enforcement of that state's anti-cigarette law, but despite some modest success her tactics were too overbearing for the Kansas Anti-Cigarette League, which fired her in January 1921. In August she also parted ways with the National Anti-Cigarette League, which noted that "Miss Gaston's methods were more aggressive than the methods approved by the League Board of Managers." She returned to Chicago, where she died of throat cancer in 1924. Three years later, Kansas repealed its anti-cigarette law, and by 1930 cigarettes were again legal in every state.
In 1925 Carl Avery Werner, writing in the American Mercury, declared "The Triumph of the Cigarette." He noted that despite "persistent, organized opposition on the grounds of health and morals, cigarette consumption had shot far past cigar consumption. "The more violently [the cigarette] has been attacked," he observed, "the more popular it has become." Werner argued that the anti-cigarette movement's "melodramatic" propaganda had backfired. He noted that scientists had "failed to find evidence for the appalling charges made against smoking" and added, "A dispassionate review of the findings compels the conclusion that the cigarette is tobacco in its mildest form, and that tobacco, used moderately by people in normal health, does not appreciably impair either the mental efficiency or the physical condition."
Although a minority would continue to proclaim the unhealthy effects of smoking, Werner's conclusion remained the conventional view for decades. Having rejected the anti-cigarette movement's warnings about the disastrous short-term consequences of smoking, most Americans gave little credence to the possibility of serious long-term damage. Certainly no one thought he was doing his body any good by smoking; even after overcoming the initial dizziness, nausea, and palpitations, a smoker could anticipate throat irritation, coughing, shortness of breath, and other symptoms that tended to confirm the suspicion that sucking smoke into one's lungs was not a healthy practice. But physicians generally advised the public that the main danger from smoking lay in excess, and smokers tended to assume that their bodies would tell them when they were overdoing it.
In 1933 Scientific American reported that a Chicago researcher had tentatively linked the "tar" in cigarette smoke to the increase in lung cancer that had been observed in recent years. But the same article quoted other researchers who were skeptical of this hypothesis: "Any substance so widely and commonly used as the cigarette cannot be as dangerous and deleterious as the propaganda of the more fanatical 'no tobacco' advocates might lead one to infer." The researchers reaffirmed that a "moderate amount of smoking may not produce visible injury in a sound individual." The article ended with a caveat: "However, the possibility of damage not perceptible by casual observation cannot yet be ruled out." To the next generation of smokers, that obligatory note of caution would take on a new significance.
Copyright © 1998 by Jacob Sullum