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Harper’s Weekly was, in effect, the American “newspaper of record” from soon after its start in 1857 until 1912.  As early as 1858, it criticized various aspects of tobacco use, as shown by a cartoon on secondhand smoke.  This website’s title—“Coffin Nails”—comes from a nineteenth century slang term for cigarettes; it was featured on April 4, 1896 in a full-page advertisement for a tobacco-addiction “cure.”
As a public service, HarpWeek has compiled this 50-plus year history of tobacco controversy and criticism as shown in the editorials, articles, news briefs, cartoons, illustrations, poetry, and advertisements of Harper’s Weekly.  The items are augmented with historical commentary by HarpWeek historian Dr. Robert C. Kennedy.

Here are some significant findings from this compilation:

  • As early as 1862, tobacco addiction was a recognized problem, and various “cures” were offered to users.
  • In 1867, the editor of Harper’s Weekly, George William Curtis, identified the three major health dangers of tobacco use:  cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.
  • The tobacco industry responded to these public health concerns by marketing tobacco products that were allegedly “healthful” and contained “no nicotine.”  For example, in 1868, Lorillard’s Yacht Club smoking tobacco (for pipes) claimed in capital letters, “ALL POISONOUS NICOTINE IS EXTRACTED.”
  • Filtered cigarettes were advertised in Harper’s Weekly as early as 1887, and not introduced in the 1930s, as often stated.
  • It was the Spanish-American War of 1898, not America’s entry into World War I in 1917, that first made cigarette smoking “manly” and led to the addiction of a generation of young servicemen.
  • Both anti-tobacco reformers and those supportive of or indifferent toward tobacco use by adults agreed that cigarette smoking was bad for children and teenagers.
  • Over a century before the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General declared that smoking causes cancer, an anti-tobacco movement was already in existence, putting forward most of the arguments used today against tobacco products.
In October 1869, Thomas Nast, America’s most famous cartoonist, drew “College Reform,” a ten-panel cartoon promoting no smoking and no drinking by students.  Another Nast cartoon in February 1882 characterized a bill to reduce taxes on cigarettes and whiskey as “A Bill to Make Idiots.”  A later cartoon in 1882 entitled “Swell Struggling with the Cig’rette Poisoner” probably contains the first mention of Marlboro (as a place, not a brand) in relation to a cigarette. 
The material on this website has been organized into six main sections as shown below.  We hope that it will reinforce the current anti-smoking efforts, especially among middle school, high school, and college students, by providing an illustrated record of the early period of the 135-year struggle against tobacco.
Selected anti-tobacco items from the pages of Harper’s Weekly, 1857-1912:

Dangers of Tobacco
      Lung and Heart Disease
      Fatigue and Headaches
      Second-Hand Smoke
      Other Dangers

Tobacco A Symbol of Bad Behavior

Young Smokers
      Easy Availability of Tobacco
      Health Concerns
      Tobacco Regulation


Other Tobacco Products
      Chewing Tobacco
      Pipes and Snuff for Women

“Healthful” Smoking Products
      Nicotine Extraction


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