Harper's Weekly 08/27/1892


Discoursing recently about anti-cigarette legislation, that
honored contemporary the Christian Union protested that
there had been a crusade against the cigarette as if it were a
special evil, and as if all other tobacco were innocent, where-
as the truth was, and public attention ought not to be diverted
from it, that it is the tobacco in the cigarette that is injuri-
ous, and not the cigarette itself.

Now it is true enough that the cigarette cannot do much
harm after the tobacco is out of it, and it is also true that
tobacco can be used to injurious excess in divers other forms.
Nevertheless, there is a special devilment about cigarettes
which the Christian Union's experience seems not to have
comprised. For it is a fact that an amount of tobacco which
if smoked in a pipe or in the form of cigars would do the
consumer no appreciable damage, is capable of results dis-
tinctly injurious if smoked in the form of cigarettes. The
reason lies mainly in the prevalent tendency to inhale the
smoke of cigarettes into the lungs. To inhale the smoke of
a cigar or a pipe is very unusual. The smoke of even a
mild cigar is too strong for such use, and the effect of the
tobacco is obtained without it. But there is so little tobacco
in a cigarette, and what there is is usually so mild, that in
order to get any good—more properly and bad—of it the smoke
must be taken deeper into the system. A man may smoke
a cigarette in the ordinary way and scarcely be conscious
that he has smoked anything; but if he inhales the smoke, he
is instantly aware that he has taken a narcotic stimulant.
As it is about the cheapest of stimulants, so it is about the
meanest and most despicable. It only lasts an instant, and
commonly it leaves behind a collapse, not of serious dimen-
sions, but disproportionate to its cause. A cigar judiciously
consumed often soothes the smoker's nerves and refreshes
his energies, stirring him from silence to conversation, promot-
ing his serenity, and producing a pleasant flow of thought and
language. The effect, too, is lasting enough to be compara-
ble to that of food, and its stimulating qualities, being slow-
ly imparted, are not followed by collapse. But there is no
food effect about a cigarette. That is all spur and no oats;
hence the common after dinner practice of smoking a ciga-
rette first for the sake of its momentary intoxication, and
then a cigar for its more wholesome and lasting effect.

Considering what very poor thing cigarettes are, it is
surprising that they should have got such a hold on the
community. But, bad as they are, they are extremely fasci-
nating. The use of them, when carried to excess, becomes
a habit that is most difficult to break, while they are so cheap
and so convenient that it takes exceptional discretion to
smoke them at all without smoking them to a deleterious
extent. Of course it is primarily because they are so cheap
that they appeal so generally to boys; but even with boys,
who ought not to be allowed to smoke at all, it is not so
much the tobacco in the cigarette that does the mischief as
the pestilent and insinuating practice of inhaling the smoke.
An ordinary boy of wholesome appetites won't smoke cigars
or pipe tobacco enough to do him serious damage, even if he
can get them. Nor would the cigarettes he might smoke be
so serious a menace to his welfare if he would only smoke
them as he would smoke cigars. The trouble is that as soon
as he gets used to cigarette-smoking he begins to inhale the
smoke, and presently is fixed in a habit that plays the mis-
chief with him.

Whether anything besides tobacco goes into ordinary
cigarettes is a much-discussed question. The effect they
sometimes produce on the brain is so different from that due
to tobacco in other forms as to favor the theory that many
of them contain opium or valerian; but this the manufac-
turers deny, usually asserting that such drugs are too expen-
sive to put into cheap cigarettes, even if it helped their
marketable qualities. One thing besides the tobacco obvi-
ously goes into them, and that is the paper, the fumes of
which are doubtless bad for the throat and lungs as far as
they go.

As to anti-cigarette legislation, which the Christian Union
discusses, it is so easily evaded that it takes a very optimis-
tic reformer to expect much benefit from that. Boys who
have individual sense will let cigarettes alone, while those
who are blessed with vigilant parents will get enough in-
telligent supervision in their tender youth to keep them
from smoking cigarettes enough to hurt them. As for the
rest, their inherited ability as human beings to survive a cer-
tain amount of poison and to grow up in spite of adverse
conditions will pull them through, always with such excep-
tions as are not inconsistent with the law of the survival of
the fittest.

Website design © 2000-2004 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2004 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to webmaster@harpweek.com