Harper's Weekly 02/02/1867


We once heard a prominent physician in one
of our large cities assert that he could prove
from some statistics which he had collected that
the use of tobacco promotes longevity. If this
were true it would follow, of course, that it is
conducive to health. The statistics, we believe,
have never been published, and even those who
are most disposed to defend the use of tobacco
are far from claiming that it is absolutely bene-
ficial. The utmost that they claim is, that while,
so far from being necessary to health, it is not
even of any benefit to it, yet it is not in most
cases injurious, and is therefore an innocent
source of comfort and enjoyment. Some, per-
haps we may say most, when pressed, will allow
that it does some harm; but they seem to con-
sider this so slight that it should be left out of
the account in view of the gratification that the
use of the article affords them. But if it be true
that it inflict any injury at all upon the constitu-
tion, is it, we ask, consistent for considerate and
conscientious persons to use it? Are they not
bound to discard every thing which will in any
degree lessen their usefulness or shorten its pe-

The subject should not be dismissed with a
joke, or be considered carelessly. This may
reasonably be expected of those who live for self-
gratification alone, but not of those who aspire
to live wisely and nobly. To all such who are
in the habit of indulging in the use of tobacco
(and there are many at the present time) we
appeal, and ask them to examine candidly the
question whether the use of this article is con-
sistent with health.

It will not do to say that there are many all
around us in whom this indulgence produces no
obvious bad results. This may be said of many
of the known causes of disease. Their operation
is often concealed from view till there is suffi-
cient accumulation of effect to betray it.

Neither will it do to say that many live to a
good old age that have always used tobacco
largely. The same may be said of the use of
alcoholic drinks, and yet there is no fact more
abundantly established than that a free use of
them is one of the most fruitful causes of disease
at the present time.

Tobacco contains two principles—an alkaline
substance and a volatile oil—which are among
the most virulent of poisons. Two or three drops
of the oil put upon the tongue of a cat have been
known to destroy life in a minute or two. It is
not strange, then, that when physicians use to-
bacco as a remedial agent, as they sometimes do,
they are exceedingly careful as to the amount
they administer.

Perhaps it will be said that poison is a rela-
tive term, and that we are daily using, with ben-
efit, articles in small quantities which, in larger,
would prove injurious. But it is not true that
even in the ordinary indulgence in tobacco it is
used in small quantities, and very many use it
in very large ones.

In all the common use of tobacco there is in-
duced a tolerance of it in the system. Observe
what this tolerance implies—for this is a point
which deserves to be considered in relation to
the influence upon health. It implies an arti-
ficial condition of the system—a departure from
nature; and all such departures are more or less
inconsistent with a perfect state of health.
is no getting away from this principle of hygi-
ene. Every one allows its application to opium,
where there is the same tolerance induced; and
how can an exception be made out in the case
of tobacco?

This tolerance, it is true, lessens the bad ef-
fects, but it by no means destroys them. It
converts the drug from a quick, palpable poison,
into a slow and secret one. The development
of its results appears at various periods in differ-
ent individuals—in some very manifestly, and
in others indistinctly, being mingled with the
results of other causes operating conjointly in
the production of ill-health. It is only now and
then that a case is met with where the deleteri-
ous influence of tobacco can be seen separately
from that of other agencies, but such cases occur
sufficiently often to enable us to see distinctly,
by comparison, its influence on multitudes of
other cases, and we are in this way warranted
in the conclusion that the very prevalent use of
tobacco is among the prominent causes of ill-
health and positive disease.

The evidence which some cases furnish is of
the most unequivocal character. We refer to
cases in which we have first the evil results of
the use of tobacco palpably developed, and then
the entire disappearance of these after an aban-
donment of the indulgence. We have met with
many experiences of this kind—so many that the
evidence is abundant and multiform. Take a
single case as an example: A clergyman, com-
ing to the conclusion that his health was suffer-
ing from tobacco, which he used very largely,
resolved to break off at once. It cost him a se-
vere trial; for his system had become so accus-
tomed to the influence of the drug that the un-
comfortable sensations which its loss occasioned,
together with the cravings of the appetite for it,
caused much suffering, incapacitated him for
mental labor, and made him almost sick. But
in a month the trial was fully passed, and vigor
and buoyancy took the place of the ill-health
which had been his lot for years. This was when
he was a young man; and he is now one of the
most hale and hearty of our older clergymen.

This must not be regarded as an exceptional
case in kind, though it may be in degree. The
cases that are more or less like it are very com-
mon. In looking at such evidence it is always to
be remembered that individuals differ very much
both in relation to the manifestation of the evil
effects of the indulgence, and the immediate re-
sults of an abandonment of it. This is owing to
idiosyncrasies or peculiarities of constitution and
other circumstances. The whole scope of the
evidence most clearly indicates that tobacco is as
truly injurious to health, though in a different
way and degree, as opium is, which it so much
resembles in the tolerance that habit may induce.
In view of it we think that the statistics to which
we referred in the beginning of this article would
hardly bear a rigorous examination.

The injurious effects of tobacco are seen most-
ly in the nervous system, for it is upon this that
its influence is chiefly exerted. Coupled, how-
ever, with the nervous derangements are often
seen signs, to a greater or less degree, of that
same depression which is so prominent in the
palpable effects produced upon those who have
not become accustomed to the use of this drug.
The powers of digestion are also apt to be affect-
ed, especially in those who chew tobacco; for, in
addition to the impairment of them which comes
from the nervous derangement, there is a great
expenditure of the saliva, which the physiologist
has shown to be of essential service in the proc-
ess of digestion. We may add also that this ex-
penditure is no inconsiderable drain upon the

Such being the evidence against tobacco, it is
no wonder that Dr. Franklin never found any
one who used it that would advise him to follow
his example. It would be well if more were as
wise as he was in refraining for this reason from
its use.

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