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Easy Availability of Tobacco // Health Concerns // Tobacco Regulation
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In the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, both anti-tobacco advocates and those supportive of or indifferent to tobacco use among adults (or, at least, men) usually agreed on their opposition to children (mainly, boys) smoking.  It was believed that smoking tobacco stunted growth, aggravated ill health, served as a “gateway” drug for stronger substances, and contributed to bad behavior.  A cartoon from the January 11, 1868 issue of Harper’s Weekly took an unambiguous stance that smoking was a deadly habit.  In “The Pleasures of Tobacco,” the “young and promising” character was addicted to pipe smoking, which led directly to his premature demise.

Thomas Nast’s cartoon in the October 2, 1869 issue, “Physical Education,” contrasted a college student from the past and present.  The former was thin and physically weak from pipe smoking and remaining isolated amid books in his cobwebbed room, while the latter was a muscular nonsmoker who combined physical fitness with academic studies.  The emphasis throughout the cartoon was the modern college students’ regimen of sports and physical activity for good health.  At the top center, sports equipment was labeled with names of scholarly disciplines to represent the supposed balance between academics and athletics in modern colleges.  The ability to do well in both endeavors, of the mind and body, was based on the practice of “No Smoking/ No Drinking.”

Public concern about the health of young smokers appeared to increase with the widespread availability and use of cigarettes among boys.  On January 11, 1879, The New York Times editorialized that cigarettes were doing “more to demoralize and vitiate youth than all the dram-shops [i.e., saloons] of the land.”  A news item in the July 7, 1883 issue of Harper’s Weekly reported a French medical study demonstrating various ill effects of tobacco use on the health and behavior of 37 boys between the ages of 9 and 15.  As part of its anti-tobacco campaign in the 1880s, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union published a pamphlet declaring that cigarettes were “doing more to-day to undermine the constitution [i.e., physical health] of our young men and boys than any other one evil.”

An editorial in the August 27, 1892 issue argued that cigarettes were more harmful than other tobacco products because of the smoke inhaled into the lungs. The writer (perhaps Carl Schurz) did not take a firm stance on the public debate over whether drugs, such as opium, were added to cigarettes, but he did warn of hazards from the burning cigarette paper.  He singled out the problem of cheap cigarettes enticing boys to smoke, although he thought that proposed legislative bans on underage smoking would be ineffective.  The editorialist believed it better that boys not take up the habit, but was optimistic that most of those who did smoke could “survive a certain amount of poison” because of “the law of the survival of the fittest.”

In the “This Busy World” column from the December 20, 1899 issue, E. S. Martin reported that the British medical journal, The Lancet, cleared American cigarettes of the charge that they were adulterated with drugs.  The columnist then pinpointed the problem with cigarettes to be the smoke inhaled into the lungs, and emphasized that they were particularly “bad for boys.”  In his viewpoint, though, the problem was not cigarette smoking, but the “poison” already in the boys, which smoking exaggerated.  Although the writer may have been referring to physical ailments, he seemed to have meant an inherent immoral or antisocial behavior, which cigarette smoking aroused.  Such boys “give cigarettes a bad name,” and so the columnist encouraged tobacco companies not to sell to underage smokers.

Harper's Weekly References
1)  January 11, 1868, p. 32, c. 1-2
cartoon, “The Pleasures of Tobacco,” smoking leads to death

2)  October 2, 1869, p. 636, c. 1-4
cartoon, “Physical Education” warns “No Smoking; No Drinking”

3)  July 7, 1883, p. 419, c. 3
“Personal” column item, French medical study shows bad health effects of tobacco use by boys

4)  August 27, 1892, p. 819, c. 1-2
editorial, “Idiosyncrasies of the Cigarette,” worse than cigar or pipe b/c inhaled, and easier for boys to acquire

5)  December 30, 1899, p. 1320, c. 2
item in “This Busy World” column, cigarettes not adulterated, but cigarettes are bad for boys

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

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


Other sections found within "Young Smokers":
Easy Availability of Tobacco // Health Concerns // Tobacco Regulation
>> Coffin Nails Homepage & Introduction





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