Friday, December 9, 2011

100 years ago today: Fighting demon nicotine

Perusing the December 9 1911 issue of the The Logan Republican (Cache County, Utah) an opinion piece on the front page caught my attention, BANEFUL INFLUENCES OF CIGARETTE SMOKING. The article itself was a peculiar mixture of warnings similar to those offered by many medical doctors one hundred years later and warnings that seem utterly nonsensical to us today. The author, Doctor Adamson, warned that smoking and a smoke filled atmosphere was bad for the lungs:
A simple case of pneumonia, but the cough persistent and irritating and will not be relieved by the usual remedies. The case goes from bad to worse, resulting in death. The real cause CIGARETTES!
should you ever visit a prize fight you will notice that just before it begins the referee steps into the ring and says "No Smoking." Now this order is not the result of false sentiment, modesty nor religion, he doesn't care how much you smoke, drink or debauch yourself, but he does know that smoke, even second hand, hurts the lungs and spoils the wind of the fighters and therefore will not permit it.
But Dr. Adamson also warns that cigarette smoking leads to a loss of "mental and moral control." He tells of a man who sat "rolling and smoking" cigarettes in his cell awaiting execution for the crime of shooting his wife to death. He tells of a "cigarette fiend" who actually "had a cigarette between his teeth when he killed his victim." He claims that "without exception" every troubled boy sent to the "Industrial school" was a cigarette smoker.

I wondered how common this perception of nicotine as yet another drug that led to "fiendish" (the common word at the time) behaviour was in 1911. Did this article reflect a common (or at least not uncommon) concern at the time or was it articular to communities such as the Mormons of Utah?

Poking around in the digital files of the Library of Congress one finds that the perception that cigarettes delivered a drug that rivaled morphine in its intensity and undermined the individual who smoked both physically and morally in newspapers across the United States and for years prior to, and after, 1911.

The Adair County News (Kentucky) ran an article THE CIGARETTE FIEND on the front page of the December 3, 1902 issue that captures the flavour of many:
"The cigarette." said a veteran inhaler of the poisonous weed the other day, "has caused the ruin of more young men than whiskey, morphine and 'dope' habits of all kinds. You don't believe it? Don't take my word, but go to the young man of twenty-five who has smoked cigaretts [sic] from his boyhood and ask him. He, like I, speaks from experience. It first robs him of manhood and will power. It incapacitates him for business. It creates a thirst for drink and to soothe his parched lips and tongue takes to strong drink--water doesn't have the desired effect. It robs him of honor and leads him to gamble.
It is fascinating to realize how hard the makers and sellers of cigarettes worked to counteract the fairly common perception that their product undermined the health and morals of its customers. One wonders if those who railed against the habit would have been more successful in preventing its widespread acceptance had they limited their attacks on it to the physical dangers it presented.


  1. I think the first government-level anti-smoking campaign was in Nazi Germany - in the late 1920s German scientists had found a clear link between smoking and lung cancer. (But what did they know? They also thought Piltdown Man was a fake!)

  2. Yes, the tobacco companies were rather disingenuous were they not when "suddenly" they were being accused of selling something that was bad for people's health.

    If member serves, Hitler was personally very anti-smoking.

    But then he didn't like


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