Harper's Weekly 01/13/1894


Mr. Charles Bulkley Hubbell, of the Board of Edu-
cation, is doing a laudable thing in trying to abate the ci-
garette nuisance in the public schools. An impressive case
of cigarette-poisoning that recently came to his notice
prompted him to try to start an anti-cigarette-smoking
league among the school-boys of the city, and his first move
was to prepare a pledge which binds its subscribers not to
smoke cigarettes until they are twenty-one years old. This
pledge he read to the boys of three schools, and found them
all willing to sign it. He hopes, now that his efforts have
been endorsed by the Board of Education, to establish his
league in all the public schools of the city.

Mr. Hubbell finds the teachers of the public schools very
much alive to the evils of the cigarette habit among boys,
and already active in some cases for its suppression. Among
them is Principal Elgas, of Grammar-school No. 69, who
has fought the cigarette in his school ever since the school
was organized, seventeen years ago. As a consequence of
his determined vigilance Mr. Elgas is able to say that he
does not believe there are more than half a dozen cigarette-
smokers among all his four hundred boys. His abhorrence
of cigarettes as founded on his experience with boys is start-
ling in its earnestness. When he recognizes a new boy as a
cigarette-smoker (and the signs of the vice are so patent as
to be easily detected), he sets out at once to break him of
his habit, and he says if that cannot be done it is practically
useless to try to do anything else for him. His experience
with the incorrigible cigarette-smoker is that his power of
attention becomes so impaired and his intellect so weakened
that he cannot be made to study, and cannot make headway
even when he tries. Morally he deteriorates into a liar, who
denies that he smokes, and confesses only when he is found
out. If money is kept from him to prevent his buying
cigarettes, he will steal it. He plays truant, gives lying ex-
cuses to his parents and teachers, forms the lowest associa-
tions, and sinks rapidly and helplessly into the condition of
a wreck. Even cigarette-smoking boys who do not fall
into such deplorable excess early find study irksome, lose
their desire for knowledge, and are anxious, Mr. Elgas
says, “not to go to college, but to get into business, which
represents to their immature foresight relief from mental
application, and from supervision and restraint.”

This may seem to be an overdrawn picture, but we know
from sorrowful observation that it is truthful and accurate
to the last particular. No doubt multitudes of boys smoke
cigarettes to their detriment, but without reaching such a
ruinous excess. It would be deplorable indeed if every
boyish cigarette-smoker went to ruin. But for the weak
boy who has thoroughly succumbed to the habit there are
no depths of misery or depravity that do not gape. Such a
lad quickly becomes rotten timber that will not hold nails,
and of which nothing useful can be made.

The use of cigarettes is not merely the use of tobacco, it
is a vice by itself. In reformatories where the cure of the
opium, alcohol, and cigarette habits is a business, cigarette
patients are not restricted from smoking cigars or pipes,
which are regarded as comparatively harmless. The ciga-
rette works a special evil of its own which tobacco in other
forms does not effect. This evil result may be due to
drugs, or to the paper wrappers, or to the fact that the
smoke of cigarettes is almost always inhaled into the lungs,
while cigar smoke is not. As to that, let the experts de-
cide; about the fact of the effect there is no doubt, and no
dearth of evidence. No other form of tobacco eats into the
will as cigarettes do. The adult man can carry off a good
deal of poison of one kind or another without disaster, and
his duties being fixed and his will formed, he is usually
able to make his minor vices subservient to his more impor-
tant obligations. And so it happens that it is a matter of
constant observation in clubs, and wherever there are intelli-
gent men who allow themselves all the creature indulgences
that they dare, that these experienced persons are constantly
“swearing off” cigarettes for longer or shorter periods, and
smoking cigars instead. The cigarette fetter begins to gall,
and they fling it off. But young boys do not do that. They
have not discretion enough, for one thing, and, for another,
cigars cost too much for them, and cannot be smoked sur-
reptitiously in a spare moment. It is the infernal cheapness
of the cigarette and its adaptability for concealment that
tempt this school-boy's callow intelligence.

There is of course no doubt that boys did go to the bad
even before cigarettes were invented, and Hogarth's pic-
tures of the idle apprentice attest that there are more ways
than one of getting the downward start. But cigarettes are
bad enough, insidious enough, dangerous enough, above all
to boys, to justify the most earnest warning, and the ex-
tremest endeavors to drive them out of the schools. The
efforts of such men as Mr. Hubbell and Mr. Elgas are
directed against a very real and threatening abomination,
and the Weekly bespeaks for them the backing they de-
serve, and wishes them the utmost possible success.

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