term “secondhand smoke” dates back to the early 1920s and describes
smoke both emitted by the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or
pipe, and that exhaled by smokers. Scientific studies today
have identified over 40 of its substances as cancer-causing and many
others as irritants to the human body.
In the nineteenth-century,
neither knowing nor suspecting the health risk,
treated the effect of smoking on nonsmokers as a behavior on the
part of the tobacco user that could be rude, offensive, frustrating,
or humorous. The perspective of a
cartoon from the March 6, 1858 issue
was comical. The man, appropriately named “Buggins,” got
revenge by blowing smoke in the offended face of his mother-in-law,
whom he was obliged to take for afternoon walks. A decade
humorous verse in the October 24, 1868 issue
was told from the perspective of a longsuffering wife whose husband
was a tobacco addict. All day long, he either smoked a pipe or
chewed tobacco (“quid”), making the house dirty, his clothes smelly,
and his personality obsessive, irritable, and unresponsive.
The last line warned that his habit would probably result in his
death, but the ill health effect on his wife was not considered.
The opening item in the “Home
and Foreign Gossip”
column of the October 12, 1872 issue urged men not to indulge the
habit in public places if there was the chance that secondhand smoke
would bother nonsmokers (specifically, women). Although basing
his argument on good manners, the columnist raised the issue of the
rights of nonsmokers. The conflict between smokers and
nonsmokers was a particular problem in the enclosed spaces of public
transportation. The first smoking car was introduced by the
Pennsylvania Railroad on July 18, 1858, and less than 16 months
later a letter to “The Lounger” column of
stated, “They have a smoking-car on most railroads…” In 1868,
the British parliament required smoke-free railroad cars in order to
prevent injury to nonsmokers, but American railroad companies
continued to regulate themselves by segregating smokers from
nonsmokers. The difficulty of finding a friend in the smoking
car of a train was the subject of a
cartoon from the newspaper’s September 20, 1873 issue.
By the 1890s, the stark smoking cars had been transformed on some
lines into luxurious quarters offering a barbershop, bathroom,
library, stock reports, comfortable chairs, and other amenities.
It was not until 1975 that
the first state law, the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, mandated
separate smoking and nonsmoking areas in public facilities.
The next year saw the first successful lawsuit against a business,
New Jersey Bell Telephone, for not protecting an employee from the
health hazards of secondhand smoke. In 1982, the U.S. Surgeon
General’s Office reported that secondhand smoke might cause lung
cancer, and in 1986, that it increased the likelihood of developing
lung cancer and other diseases. The next year, Congress
prohibited smoking on all domestic flights less than two hours, and
in 1989, extended the ban to cover all domestic flights. In
1993, a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded
that secondhand smoke does cause lung cancer, killing nearly 3000
nonsmokers a year, and poses additional health threats.
Children of smokers, for example, have an increased risk of
developing pneumonia, bronchitis, and other respiratory ailments.
By the mid-1990s, over 500 local and 40 state governments had
enacted smoking bans in public places.