Other sections found within "Dangers of Tobacco":
Addiction // Cancer // Lung and Heart Disease // Fatigue and Headache
Second-hand Smoke // Other Dangers >> Coffin Nails Homepage & Introduction

The term “secondhand smoke” dates back to the early 1920s and describes smoke both emitted by the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, and that exhaled by smokers.  Scientific studies today have identified over 40 of its substances as cancer-causing and many others as irritants to the human body.

In the nineteenth-century, neither knowing nor suspecting the health risk, Harper’s Weekly treated the effect of smoking on nonsmokers as a behavior on the part of the tobacco user that could be rude, offensive, frustrating, or humorous.  The perspective of a cartoon from the March 6, 1858 issue was comical.  The man, appropriately named “Buggins,” got revenge by blowing smoke in the offended face of his mother-in-law, whom he was obliged to take for afternoon walks.  A decade later, a humorous verse in the October 24, 1868 issue was told from the perspective of a longsuffering wife whose husband was a tobacco addict.  All day long, he either smoked a pipe or chewed tobacco (“quid”), making the house dirty, his clothes smelly, and his personality obsessive, irritable, and unresponsive.  The last line warned that his habit would probably result in his death, but the ill health effect on his wife was not considered.

The opening item in the “Home and Foreign Gossip” column of the October 12, 1872 issue urged men not to indulge the habit in public places if there was the chance that secondhand smoke would bother nonsmokers (specifically, women).  Although basing his argument on good manners, the columnist raised the issue of the rights of nonsmokers.  The conflict between smokers and nonsmokers was a particular problem in the enclosed spaces of public transportation.  The first smoking car was introduced by the Pennsylvania Railroad on July 18, 1858, and less than 16 months later a letter to “The Lounger” column of Harper’s Weekly stated, “They have a smoking-car on most railroads…”  In 1868, the British parliament required smoke-free railroad cars in order to prevent injury to nonsmokers, but American railroad companies continued to regulate themselves by segregating smokers from nonsmokers.  The difficulty of finding a friend in the smoking car of a train was the subject of a cartoon from the newspaper’s September 20, 1873 issue.  By the 1890s, the stark smoking cars had been transformed on some lines into luxurious quarters offering a barbershop, bathroom, library, stock reports, comfortable chairs, and other amenities.

It was not until 1975 that the first state law, the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, mandated separate smoking and nonsmoking areas in public facilities.  The next year saw the first successful lawsuit against a business, New Jersey Bell Telephone, for not protecting an employee from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.  In 1982, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office reported that secondhand smoke might cause lung cancer, and in 1986, that it increased the likelihood of developing lung cancer and other diseases.  The next year, Congress prohibited smoking on all domestic flights less than two hours, and in 1989, extended the ban to cover all domestic flights.  In 1993, a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that secondhand smoke does cause lung cancer, killing nearly 3000 nonsmokers a year, and poses additional health threats.  Children of smokers, for example, have an increased risk of developing pneumonia, bronchitis, and other respiratory ailments.  By the mid-1990s, over 500 local and 40 state governments had enacted smoking bans in public places.

Harper's Weekly References
1)  March 6, 1858, p. 160, c. 3-4
cartoon, blowing smoke in mother-in-law’s face

2)  October 24, 1868, p. 683, c. 4
verse, “A Wife’s Blast Against Tobacco”

3)  October 12, 1872, p. 795, c. 3
“Home and Foreign Gossip” column, urges tobacco users not to smoke in enclosed public places

4)  September 20, 1873, p. S837, c. 3-4
cartoon, “Trying to Find a Friend in the Smoking Car,” part of “Humors of Railroad Travel”

Sources Consulted
Borio, Gene, “The History of Tobacco” History Net,

“How Dangerous is Second-Hand Smoke?” Canadian Health Network,

“Secondary Smoking, Individual Rights, and Public Space,” Reports of the Surgeon General, National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health,

Tate, Cassandra, Cigarette Wars:  The Triumph of the Little White Slaver (NY:  Oxford UP, 1999)

“What You Can Do About Second-Hand Smoke as Parents, Decision-Makers, and Building Occupants,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,


Other sections found within "Dangers of Tobacco":
Addiction // Cancer // Lung and Heart Disease // Fatigue and Headache
Second-hand Smoke // Other Dangers >> Coffin Nails Homepage & Introduction





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