February/march 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 2
THE HUNDRED-YEAR WAR AGAINST THE CIGARETTE
It was like any other Tuesday lunch hour, until the sheriff’s deputies walked in. Mr. Ernest Bamberger, general manager of the Keystone Mining Company and recent (unsuccessful) Republican candidate for United States senator, and Mr. John C. Lynch, manager of the Salt Lake Ice Company, finished their meals at the Vienna Café, an unpretentious but respectable businessmen’s restaurant on Salt Lake City’s Main Street, and prepared to savor their customary post-luncheon cigars. A few tables away, near the back of the crowded establishment, Mr. Edgar L. Newhouse, department manager for the American Smelting and Refining Company, paused briefly in his conversation with Mr. L. R. Eccles of Ogden to light a cigarette. At the same time, Mr. Ambrose Noble McKay, general manager of the Salt Lake Tribune, lighted his cigar, picked up his check, and went over to the counter to pay it.
None of the gentlemen’s actions sparked any apparent interest among the other restaurant patrons. Certainly no one—with the possible exception of Mr. J. J. Burke, a Salt Lake contracting engineer—suspected them of any overt criminal activity. As they smoked, chatted, and pondered the upcoming afternoon’s affairs—or, in McKay’s case, waited impatiently for the counterman to tally up the bill—they remained completely unaware that they were only a few minutes away from a calamity that not only would make them the outraged subjects of a public spectacle but also would result in their good names being bandied about in newspapers across the country. Had they suspected they were in such danger they easily could have destroyed the incriminating evidence with a simple twist of thumb and forefinger. But they did not, and a few moments later, even before the ash on Bamberger’s cigar required attention, they were caught flagrante delicto by Salt Lake County sheriff’s deputies Michael Mauss and John Harris.
The two deputies entered the Vienna Café at half-past noon and walked directly to the table occupied by Bamberger and Lynch, where they displayed their badges and promptly placed the men under arrest. While Deputy Harris stood guard over the pair, Deputy Mauss walked to the rear of the café, where he arrested Newhouse. Eccles, Newhouses luncheon companion, escaped arrest only by gesticulating with an unlighted cigarette and proving to the deputy that although he had obviously intended to commit a crime, he had not yet done so, and therefore was not subject to arrest. Deputy Mauss agreed.
Meanwhile, McKay, who had finally succeeded in paying his lunch bill and was preparing to leave the café, was loudly denounced as a co-offender by Mr. Burke, who pointed a finger at the departing McKay and told Deputy Harris that he also should be arrested. Perhaps fearing an escape attempt by Bamberger and Lynch, Deputy Harris made no move to apprehend the fleeing newspaperman.
The two deputies then escorted their three protesting prisoners through the highly agitated throng of customers and onlookers (the Vienna Café may have been unpretentious, but arrests on the premises were uncommon enough to generate a great deal of excitement). Since no patrol car was available, Mr. Bamberger, Mr. Lynch, and Mr. Newhouse were then marched down Main Street, in full and humiliating view of friends, business associates, and passers-by, to the county jail some blocks away, where they were charged and booked like so many common criminals.
Which they were, since they—along with McKay, who as a result of some rather undignified snitching by his accomplices in crime was soon to become the object of a similar criminal complaint—openly had violated Section 4, Chapter 145, of the Utah state code. The four men had been smoking in an enclosed public place.
There is considerably more to this story—more arrests, mass meetings, the eventual surrender of McKay, and so on, all of which will be discussed later. But the most interesting aspect of the incident is not that several otherwise law-abiding citizens were arrested for committing such a widespread and popular crime, nor even that they were sufficiently prominent in the community to ensure a great deal of bad publicity for the state of Utah. What is most interesting about the incident at the Vienna Café is simply the year in which it occurred—1923. For despite widespread belief to the contrary, tobacco smoking’s sorry reputation did not begin with Surgeon General Luther Terry’s famous 1964 report, which as we will see was actually a rather mild document in comparison with earlier works on the subject. Nor is the recent legislative attack on smoking a modern phenomenon, since by the time Mr. Bamberger and his colleagues lighted their ill-fated smokes more than a dozen states had passed laws that make today’s legislative antismoking efforts seem almost benign. The fact is that the truly golden age of the antismoking movement in America began in the 1880’s, when a new and deadly manifestation of the smoking habit first apeared in large numbers on the American scene. It ended four decades later, during a Tuesday lunch hour at the Vienna Café.
The world’s first anti-smoking tract—the opening shot in the conflict that would eventually lead to Bamberger’s arrest—was published in 1604 by England’s James I, one of history’s most famous tobacco-phobes. Entitled “A Counterblaste to Tobacco,” James’s treatise ridiculed the medicinal and prophylactic properties then ascribed to the plant, excoriated his pipe-smoking subjects for wasting their money and befouling the English air, and finally concluded with a famous—and, to non-smokers, still applicable—peroration: Smoking, James said, was “a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harniefull to the braine, daungerous to the Lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoak of the pit that is bottomelesse. ” Unfortunately, as James and his antismoking successors found out, the habit once adopted is a difficult one to break, on either an individual or national basis, and smoking continued unabated in England.
The story was much the same elsewhere, as kings and potentates throughout the known world found that no amount of whippings (Russia), beheadings (Turkey), nose slittings (India), and other extreme measures could suppress the habit. Murad IV of Turkey is typical of the early Eastern anti-smoking crusaders. Determined to enforce the royal no-smoking edict, Murad reportedly prowled the streets of seventeenth-century Istanbul incognito, accosting suspected tobacco sellers, begging them to sell him a small quantity, offering them payment far in excess of the going rate and swearing eternal secrecy. Then, if the merchant’s greed overcame his caution and he produced the forbidden substance, Murad would personally behead him on the spot, leaving the body in the street as a grisly warning. But despite Murad’s efforts, smoking continued—prospered, actually—in Turkey. (Poetic justic was served almost three centuries later, when Turkish tobacco cigarettes called “Murads”—featuring testimonials by the unfortunate Fatty Arbuckle—became one of America’s most popular brands.)
In contrast to European and Oriental anti-smoking campaigns, early American efforts were mild. In the 1630’s the Massachusetts colony banned tobacco sales and public smoking, public being defined as any place where more than one person was present. In the 1640’s Connecticut also banned public smoking and required smokers to obtain a smoker’s permit. These laws generally were ignored, however, particularly after the clergy took up the habit; Massachusetts soon repealed its prohibitions, the Connecticut ones eventually faded away, and smoking vanished as an issue for the next one hundred and fifty years.
It resurfaced in 1798, when Dr. Benjamin Rush published an essay called “Observations upon the influence of the Habitual use of Tobacco upon Health, Morals and Property.” Smoking and tobacco chewing were harmful to the mouth, stomach, and nervous system, Dr. Rush observed, in addition to being generally filthy and expensive habits. The doctor went on to draw a direct cause-and-effect relationship between tobacco use and drunkenness, a correlation that would persist throughout subsequent antismoking campaigns. Dr. Rush was followed by a number of antismoking reformers. Dr. Joel Shew, for example, carefully catalogued—often in repellent detail—some eighty-seven maladies directly attributable to tobacco use, including insanity, cancer, and hemorrhoids. The eugenicist Orson L. Fowler believed tobacco possessed certain aphrodisiacal properties—obviously a more damning charge then than it would be today—and warned, “Ye who would be pure in your love-instinct, cast this sensualizing fire from you.” The Reverend George Trask, author of the widely circulated 1852 tract “Thoughts and Stories for American Lads” (subtitled “Uncle Toby’s Anti-Tobacco Advice to His Nephew Billy Bruce”), pioneered the misuse of statistics in warning of the dangers of tobacco. “Physicians tell us that twenty thousand or more in our own land are killed by [tobacco] every year,” Trask wrote in 1859. “German physicians tell us that of deaths of men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, one-half originate from this source.” Joining in the ante-bellum antismoking campaign were such men as Horace Greeley (who described a “long nine” cigar as “a fire at one end and a fool at the other”), Henry Ward Beecher, and even P. T. Barnum.
But despite the best efforts of Uncle Toby and his allies, smoking remained a minor cause in an era filled with great ones, and by the beginning of the Civil War, antismoking “agitations” (to use the contemporary term) had all but died out. What finally brought the movement back to life was a sleek and—to some—rather stylish little European import that eventually would outrage American antismokers more than any previous manifestation of the tobacco habit. We are speaking, of course, of the “coffin nail,” the “little white slaver,” the “little white hearse plume”—the cigarette.
Cigarettes apparently were developed in Latin America . and later turned up in seventeenth-century Spain as a kind of poor man’s cigar. Precisely how or when they first appeared between American lips is uncertain, but by 1854 imported cigarettes were common enough—in cosmopolitan New York City, at least—to attract the attention of one Dr. R. T. Trail, who noted with unconcealed disgust that “some of the ladies of this refined and fashion-forming metropolis are aping the silly ways of some pseudoaccomplished foreigners, in smoking Tobacco through a weaker and more feminine article, which has been most delicately denominated cigarette .”
Cigarettes hardly took the country by storm, however; by 1865 fewer than 20 million were manufactured in the United States (compared with 695 billion in 1978), all of them hand-rolled by urban workers, all composed of expensive imported tobaccos and most if not all of them smoked by those same citified and upper-class souls who so agitated Dr. Trail. By 1880 American cigarette production reached 500 million a year, but cigarettes remained an almost inconsequential aspect of the tobacco trade, then dominated by chewing tobacco, cigars, and pipe tobacco. Still, they clearly were catching on; by 1885, following the invention of a practical cigarette-rolling machine and a shift to domestic tobaccos, cigarette production passed the one-billion-a-year mark. By 1890 it topped two billion, and by 1895 some four billion cigarettes were manufactured in America, bearing such now-forgotten brand names as “Cameo,” “Duke’s Best,” “Sweet Caporal,” “Virginia Bright,” and “Old Judge.” Makings for millions of “roll-your-own” cigarettes also were sold every year.
Despite those seemingly dramatic increases, cigarettes quickly developed a most unsavory reputation. First, their newness made them easy targets for the vilest rumors; cigarette papers were said to be saturated with opium, arsenic, and other poisons. Cigarette tobacco reportedly was gleaned from cigar butts retrieved from urban gutters by derelicts and street urchins. More revolting was the widely circulated report that cigarette-factory workers urinated on the tobacco to give it “bite. ” The fact that cigarette smoke was inhaled—a practice not usually associated with cigar or pipe smoking—made the alleged “adulterations” even more dangerous. Cigarettes also faced severe “image” problems in the late nineteenth century. Their association with city types—as noted by Dr. Trail—hardly improved their reputation among the rural populace, and in contrast to the manly cigar, the reflective pipe, and the humble but honest chew, cigarettes seemed to be geared more toward a woman’s tastes than toward a man’s. The “ette” suffix by itself gave off a diminutive and therefore feminine air, and brand names such as “Opera Puffs” and “Pearl’s Pets” did little to offset this.
“The cigarette is designed for boys and women,” The New York Times decided in 1884, summing up the prevailing view. The Times added that “the decadence of Spain began when the Spaniards adopted cigarettes, and if this pernicious practice obtains among adult Americans the ruin of the Republic is close at hand.” While the Times may have exaggerated in assessing the impact of cigarettes on the national destiny, it was correct in predicting that they would appeal to women in ever-increasing numbers. Still, public smoking by women was rare in the nineteenth century, and cigarette manufacturers carefully avoided any overt appeals to the female smoking market. (In fact, not until the 1920’s would cigarette advertisers dare to portray an American woman even holding a cigarette. It’s worth noting that “Marlboro” brand cigarettes, whose filter-tipped descendants would become the favorite smoke of that quintessential rugged American, the Marlboro Man, were among the first to openly pursue the female smoker, using an alliterative—but most unrugged—slogan: “Marlboros: Mild as May.”) Although women smokers would become the object of antismoking efforts within a few decades, it was boy smokers who provided the initial focal point for the coming crusade.
Cigarettes were particularly appealing to boys, since they were cheap enough (at ten or twenty for a nickel) and mild enough to allow even the smallest boy to emulate his pipe- and cigar-smoking elders without suffering the drastic side-effects that pipes and cigars usually inflicted on immature smokers. By the mid-1880’s cigarette-smoking boys were a common sight on any urban street corner, and even rural areas had their youthful “cigarette fiends.” Cigarette manufacturers, for their part, exacerbated the problem through the use of cards and coupons, one of which was placed in every pack. They bore a photograph or lithograph on one side and usually an explanatory note on the other, and each was one of a numbered set, the object being to collect all the cards in any given set. Later James B. Duke of W. Duke, Sons & Co. (who in 1890 would combine the five largest cigarette companies into the American Tobacco Company, also known as the Tobacco Trust) pioneered the coupon system, whereby a specified number of “vouchers’ found in cigarette packs could be redeemed for a lithograph album. Card sets bore such titles as “Fifty Scenes of Perilous Occupations,” “Lives of Poor Boys Who Became Rich,” and “Flags of All Nations” among dozens of others. Perhaps even more educational were such series as “Actresses,” “Gems of Beauty,” and Duke’s popular “Sporting Girls” album (available for seventy-five coupons). All the cards and albums were in great demand by the younger set, who traded and gambled them with all the adolescent fervor later afforded bubble-gum baseball and football cards.
Parents, on the other hand, were outraged.
“There is no question that demands more public attention than the prevailing methods of cigarette manufacturers to foster and stimulate smoking among children,” one irate New Yorker said in 1888, presaging a complaint that would continue, with considerable justification, for the next ninety years. “At the office of a leading factory in this city you can see any Saturday afternoon a crowd of children with vouchers clamoring for the reward of self-inflicted injury.”
Nor were the “self-inflicted injuries” courted by young smokers confined to the potential, long-term maladies—lung cancer, heart disease, and so on—now associated with cigarette smoking. On the contrary, in the 1880’s and 1890’s the cigarette’s effects on smokers were thought to be not only immediate and debilitating but also often fatal. Consider the following case, as reported by The New York Times in 1890.
CIGARETTE SMOKING KILLED HIM
“New Jersey—The death of eight-year-old Willie Major, a farmer’s son, from excessive cigarette smoking is reported from Bound Brook. The boy had for over three years been a victim to the habit. He would stay away from home several days at a time, eating nothing but the herbs and berries of the neighborhood and smoking constantly. Sunday he became ill and delirious. He died Tuesday in frightful convulsions.”
There were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of similar case histories.
Even if death did not immediately claim the young smoker, failing health surely would. Among the maladies attributed to cigarette smoking were color blindness, “tobacco ambylopia” (a weakening of the eyesight), baldness, stunted growth, insanity, sterility, drunkenness, impotence (or sexual promiscuity, depending on the point to be made), mustaches on women, and that traditional bugaboo of nineteenthcentury America, constipation. No less alarming was the moral dissipation caused by cigarettes, a process cogently described by New York school commissioner Charles Hubbell in 1893: “Many and many a bright lad has had his will power weakened, his moral principle sapped, his nervous system wrecked, and his whole life spoiled before he is seventeen years old by the detestable cigarette. The ‘cigarette fiend’ in time becomes a liar and a thief. He will commit petty thefts to get money to feed his insatiable appetite for nicotine. He lies to his parents, his teachers, and his best friends. He neglects his studies and, narcotized by nicotine, sits at his desk half stupefied, his desire for work, his ambition, dulled if not dead.”
For all these reasons, cigarettes had by the 1890’s managed to arouse the ire of a major portion of the American public, pipe and cigar smokers included. It was thus only to be expected that parents, teachers, juvenile authorities, and particularly reformers would agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment (if not the grammar) of the following plea, published by the Annapolis Evening Capital in 1886 and echoed by antismokers for the next forty years: “Something heroic must be done for the suppression of this monstrous evil or the coming American man will be a pigmy and a disgrace to their race. Let our Legislature come to their rescue.”
The Maryland legislature, perhaps fearful of the state’s tobacco industry, failed to respond to the plea. Other legislatures would not be so timid.
The legislative campaign against smoking began in earnest in the 1890’s. Cigarettes were the primary target; pipes and cigars initially were excluded from the battle, but later the scope was broadened to include public smoking in any form, as Mr. Bamberger and his associates would find out. Although the campaign attracted a number of organizations and individuals, particularly the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, its most indefatigable warrior was a now almost forgotten WCTU alumna named Lucy Page Gaston.
Born in Ohio in 1860 and raised in Illinois, she came early to the reform business when, as a student at the Illinois State Normal School, she led raids on local saloons and tobacco shops. She began her anticigarette campaign in the early 1890’s, after ten years as a school teacher and Sunday-school instructor and after having been a full-time WCTU worker and journalist. Initially she confined her efforts to the Chicago area, but in the late 1890’s she branched out into neighboring states, addressing school and church assemblies (audiences already primed by the thousands of antismoking tracts distributed by the WCTU), organizing girls’ and boys’ anticigarette organizations and administering the “Clean Life Pledge” en masse: “I hereby pledge myself with the help of God to abstain from all intoxicating liquors as a beverage and from the use of tobacco in any form.” Pledgees were entitled to wear the Clean Life Button. Convinced that anticigarette legislation was necessary to protect the youth of America, Gaston haunted city halls and state capitols, demanding prompt action and, to that end, making life miserable for any state legislator or town councilman unlucky enough not to see her coming. Once anticigarette laws or ordinances were passed, she pressed for strict enforcement. The Chicago police chief, no doubt weary of Gaston’s prodding, finally deputized her to arrest violators of the new antismoking laws, and within ten years she went to court more than six hundred times to prosecute tobacco dealers who sold their wares to children.
In 1899, with the financial and moral backing of a group of Chicago businessmen, Gaston founded the Ghicago AntiCigarette League, which spawned similar leagues throughout the Midwest. In 1901 several hundred anticigarette leagues, claiming a combined membership of almost 300,000, were loosely combined as the National Anti-Cigarette League, with Lucy Page Gaston as superintendent. The goal of the National Anti-Cigarette League (later renamed the Anti-Cigarette League of America and still later the International AntiCigarette League) was simple: the total abolition of the cigarette from American life, by force of law if necessary.
There were some early reversals in the campaign. In 1892 Congress was deluged with petitions from WCTU groups stating that cigarettes were “causing insanity and death to thousands” of American youths and demanding federal abolition of the cigarette trade. The Senate’s committee on epidemic diseases studied the cigarette problem but concluded that it was a state matter. A year later Washington prohibited the sale of cigarettes within the state—not only to minors, but to adults as well—but a few months later a federal court struck down the law. Still, by the turn of the century most states had banned cigarette and tobacco sales to minors. The anticigarette movement clearly was gaining momentum. Between 1895 and 1897 North Dakota, Iowa, and Tennessee banned the sale of cigarettes or cigarette papers, but the laws generally were ignored until 1900, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Tennessee statute. The decision prompted the American Tobacco Company to notify its dealers in those states that it would no longer back them up if they were prosecuted for selling cigarettes, and cigarette dealers, fearing a crackdown by state authorities, scrambled to dispose of their wares. The court’s decision also bolstered the spirits of the anticigarette forces and spurred them to greater efforts; by early 1901 anticigarette legislation was a major topic in state capitols across the country, as the following Chicago Tribune headline makes clear:
Movement Afoot To Suppress Use
Of Tobacco In Deadly Form
LAWS ARE BEINt; FORMED
Nearly Every Legislature Considering
Best Measures For Restriction
PROGRESS OF THE CRUSADE
The accompanying article revealed that only Wyoming and Louisiana had paid no attention to the cigarette controversy, while the other forty-three states either already had anticigarette laws on the books, were considering new or tougher anticigarette laws, or were the scenes of heavy anticigarette activity. The pending legislation ranged from bans on sales to minors to a bill introduced in the Indiana legislature that would have banned public cigarette smoking by anyone, with violators to be jailed, fined, and “disenfranchised and rendered incapable of holding any office of trust or profit.”
Although bills to prohibit cigarettes were considered in more than a dozen states—including Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, California, Montana, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Delaware, and even North Carolina—only the Oklahoma Territory prohibited cigarette sales during the 1901 legislative session, a development the anticigarette forces attributed, with some justification, to the well-financed lobbying of the Tobacco Trust. Accusations of bribery were common whenever anticigarette bills were considered. When the Washington legislature considered its 1893 anticigarette law, for example, the Tobacco Trust reportedly dispatched a lobbyist to Olympia armed with twenty thousand dollars in cash to change legislators’ minds, but he arrived too late to bring the largesse to bear. In Indiana in 1905 an alleged briber was forced to flee the country—with a three-thousand-dollar reward on his head—after he tried to buy a pro-cigarette vote. As an anonymous source within the cigarette industry later recalled the situation, “A bill would be introduced to a legislature to prohibit the manufacture or sale of cigarettes; it would be referred to a committee and our people would have to get busy and pay somebody to see that it died.” Such heavy-handed tactics did little to endear the Tobacco Trust—which controlled nearly 90 per cent of American cigarette production—to the American public, and even after the Trust was obstensibly dissolved by court order in 1911, the tough lobbying activities of the successor tobacco companies continued to rankle.
The defeat of any given anticigarette bill hardly resolved the matter, however; the anticigarette forces—Lucy Page Gaston in particular—were nothing if not persistent, and legislators could be sure that they would be back in the next session, and if necessary, the next. And eventually, it seemed, they would win, since cigarettes had many enemies in legislative committee rooms and precious few friends. That was particularly true in the Midwest, where cigarette consumption was low and anticigarette feeling high.
Anticigarette successes continued to mount. Wisconsin and Nebraska banned cigarette sales in 1905. In that l same year, Indiana prohibited even their possession, and Indiana cigarette dealers tried frantically to dispose of their supplies before the new law took effect; one overstocked dealer burned his in the street. Two years later Arkansas and Illinois likewise banned cigarette sales, although the Illinois Supreme Court soon struck down the Illinois law on a technicality, a decision that prompted Lucy Page Gaston to initiate an unsuccessful campaign to allow the recall of state supreme court justices. Kansas, Washington, South Dakota, and Minnesota joined the cigarette prohibition ranks in 1909, and the day before the Minnesota law took effect, Minneapolis cigarette smokers reportedly bought more than a million to see them through the lean days ahead.
Where state governments failed to act, municipal ones often took the initiative. Even New York City jumped on the antismoking bandwagon, in a sexist sort of way, when in 1908 the Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance prohibiting public smoking by women. (The fact that such an ordinance was considered necessary indicates how rapidly women were taking up the habit.) The ordinance was vetoed two weeks later by Mayor McClellan, but not before twenty-nine year-old Katie Mulcahey was arrested and jailed for lighting a cigarette in front of a policeman and then compounding the crime by asserting, “No man shall dictate to me.”
While legislators pondered anticigarette bills, the educational campaign continued. “There are in the United States to-day 500,000 boys and youths who are habitual cigarette smokers,” Education magazine told its readers in 1907. “Few of them can be educated beyond the eighth grade, and practically all of them are destined to remain physical and mental dwarfs.” The same publication later offered a number of terse case histories: “Case No. 1: Began habit at 4, taught by boys 6 and 7. Almost physical wreck now at 13. Sight poor, voice like a ghost, hearing impaired. Steals. In first grade.” Or “Case No. 4: Began smoking at 10. Mind shattered at 14. Tried several positions, failed. A worthless loafer now.” But boys were no longer the sole target of the antismoking campaign. Businessmen’s views on the subject were being widely circulated, the general tone being that cigarette smoking was a handicap in the job market. Montgomery Ward, Sears, Roebuck, and hundreds of other firms were said to discriminate against cigarette users, and one antismoker later cheerfully estimated that more than two million jobs were closed to them. A host of the famous joined the anticigarette crusade, including Elbert Hubbard, author of “A Message to Garcia” and a lesser-known pamphlet called “The Cigarettist”; Thomas Edison, a cigar smoker who refused to hire cigarette smokers; and Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, father of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and author of a 1916 Good Housekeeping article called “The Little White Slaver. ” Even Henry Ford joined in, publishing in 1916 a pamphlet called “The Case Against the Little White Slaver.”
Other antismoking groups were formed, most notably the Non-Smokers Protective League of America, founded in 1911 by Dr. Charles G. Pease, a New York physician and dentist who regularly “arrested” smokers on trains, subways, and so on—activities which Dr. Pease later said earned him more than a dozen death threats and two “scouting” visits by local undertakers. Meanwhile, Lucy Page Gaston kept up the pressure. Fresh from her legislative victories in the Midwest, she took time out from publishing The Boy , the AntiCigarette League s monthly newspaper, to carry the fight to New York City in 1907 and again three years later. Although she failed in her attempt to have a cigarette prohibition law passed in Albany, both visits created a stir. In 1913 Gaston and Dr. D. H. Kress opened a smoking-cure clinic in the Women’s Temple in Chicago, the Anti-Cigarette League headquarters, and soon were flooded with repenitent cigarette smokers, mostly small boys but also a chorus girl or two. The “cure” consisted of painting the palate with a silver nitrate solution and chewing some gentian root whenever the smoking urge returned. Newspapermen who took it reported that the cure was very effective, in the short run at least, and similar clinics were soon in operation from Hoboken to Los Angeles.
In some respects, then, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were indeed the golden age of the antismoking movement. Cigarettes were anathema to millions of Americans, and feeling ran so strong in some areas that a traveling Chautauqua company in anticigarette Kansas deemed it prudent to use a dairy instead of a cigarette factory as the backdrop for a production of Carmen . There was, however, one rather vexing problem: Americans were smoking more cigarettes than ever before.
Cigarettes had suffered somewhat during the early years of the campaign; between 1896 and 1901, after more than thirty years of constant growth, cigarette sales actually declined, reaching a low point of about two billion in 1901. But the drop was only temporary; in 1902, following a tax reduction and the repeal of an 1897 ban on cigarette cards and coupons, sales went up, and by 1906 they had neared their former high of five billion. In 1910 Americans smoked almost eight billion “Fatimas,” “Meccas,” “Hassans,” “Helmars,” “Murads,” “Egyptian Deities,” and others; in 1917 some thirty-five billion cigarettes—now with names like “Camels,” “Lucky Strikes,” and “Chesterfields”—were consumed.
As those brand names indicate, between 1910 and 1917 American smokers shifted away from the American-made Turkish or pseudo-Turkish brands that had dominated the market since the late 1890’s. In the same period manufacturers dropped the use of coupons and prizes. “Camels,” introduced by R. J. Reynolds in 1913, were responsible for both developments. “Camels ” new blend of domestic and “cased” or sweetened Burley tobaccos quickly developed a large following—most cigarettes still use the same basic blend—and “Camels” killed the coupon and prize system with the following message, printed on the back of every pack: “Don’t look for premiums or coupons, as the cost of the tobaccos blended in CAMEL Cigarettes prohibits the use of them. ” The implication that coupons or prizes meant reduced quality was a master stroke; “Camels” soon captured more than a third of the American cigarette market, forcing the American Tobacco Company and Liggett & Myers to respond with the similarly blended “Lucky Strikes” and “Chesterfields.” Cigarette cards and coupons quickly disappeared, although Brown & Williamson revived the coupon system on a very limited basis in the 1930’s with “Raleighs.”
The American cigarette industry had prospered not only in spite of the extensive anticigarette activity but in some ways because of it. First, people simply liked cigarettes; they were cheap, easy to smoke, and were better suited than either pipes, cigars, or the ubiquitous rural plug for the frenetic pace of city life. Paradoxically, cigarettes were shedding their effeminate image while at the same time women were taking them up in ever-increasing numbers. Also, the antismokers’ exaggerated claims of the cigarette’s deleterious effects were impossible to sustain, and thus eventually proved self-defeating. Whatever reasonable argumerits the antismokers had to offer against cigarettes—and as recent developments indicate, they had the right idea but the wrong criteria—were lost in the barrage of idiotic pronouncements and ill-considered “facts.” (Physicians, particularly repelled by the hysteria, were quick to leap to the cigarette’s defense; only in the past thirty years or so has the medical profession as a group joined in condemning cigarette smoking.) Finally, cigarettes benefited from that almost perverse quality of human nature that makes what is despised and outlawed by some people—particularly Sunday-school teachers and reformers—absolutely irresistible to others. By the beginning of the First World War, then, most even marginally sophisticated Americans regarded the anticigarette, antismoking crusade with cheerful ambivalence, an attitude nicely summed up in the following pithy lines first published in the Penn State Froth in 1915:
As popular antipathy toward cigarettes waned, so did the legislative fortunes of the anticigarette movement. The cigarette prohibition laws had never been very effective anyway; state legislators had been easily pursuaded to pass them when faced with well-organized pressure groups, but enforcement was quite another matter. After the usual rush to dispose of (or at least hide) their cigarettes, tobacco dealers found that they could sell them without too much fear of prosecution. They were also easily available by mail, and in states where “giving away” cigarettes was not specifically prohibited, matches sometimes were sold for ten cents with the cigarettes thrown in “free.” In 1909 Indiana admitted defeat and repealed its cigarette prohibition law, leaving only the ban on sales to minors. Washington followed in 1911, Minnesota in 1913, Wisconsin and Oklahoma in 1915, and South Dakota in 1917. Even in those states where cigarette prohibition laws remained on the books, cigarette sales continued to climb. For the anticigarette movement it was a most discouraging turn of events, and the worst—in the form of World War I—was still to come.
The war did great things for cigarettes, and for smoking in general. No less an authority than General Pershing himself declared that tobacco was “as indispensable as the daily ration,” and Army doctors sent home glowing accounts of the cigarette’s salutary effects on wounded soldiers: “Wonderful,” one Army surgeon reported from France. “As soon as the lads take their first ‘whiff’ they seem eased and relieved of their agony.” The home front responded enthusiastically to the call for more. An Army Girl’s Transport Tobacco Fund and the National Gigarette Service Committee sent millions of cigarettes overseas, and even the YMCA, which previously had campaigned against smoking, sold and gave away cigarettes in the trenches. Finally, in 1918, the War Department bestowed official government blessings on the smoking habit by making tobacco part of the daily ration. Cigarettes were no longer “coffin nails” or “little white slavers”; they were healthy, masculine, and—whoever would have thought it possible?—downright patriotic.
And that might have been the end of America’s first great antismoking movement, and of this article, were l it not for two important facts: first, we still have to get Bamberger and his colleagues out of the Salt Lake County jail, and second, in January, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified by the states.
If the war provided a lift for cigarettes and smoking’s social standing, passage of the “dry” amendment provided an even greater lift for the war-demoralized antismoking movement. If drinking could so easily be legislated out of existence, why not smoking? “Prohibition is won; now for tobacco, declared the evangelist Billy Sunday, and throughout the early postwar years rumors of an impending WCTU campaign to enact the “Nineteenth Amendment” were rife.
“The creaking tumbrel which carted King Alcohol to the gallows has been turned around and started back after Lady Nicotine,” the Cincinnati Times-Star reported in 1919. “The time when the suggestion of tobacco prohibition could be laughed at has passed,” the New York World warned, and even the moderate New York Times noted that “the Nineteenth Amendment shoves a saintly nose above the horizon.”
The WCTU and the Anti-Saloon League denied that tobacco was next on the prohibition hit list, and at its “Victory Convention” in St. Louis in 1919 the WCTU vowed to continue its educational campaign against smoking but resoundingly defeated a resolution calling for an anti-tobacco amendment. Reports of a tobacco prohibition drive were a plot by the “wets” to turn the country against alcohol prohibition, the WCTU charged.
Still, there were signs that a new antismoking crusade—if not a concerted campaign for a tobacco prohibition amendment—was under way In 1919 the Indiana legislature, for example, considered but did not pass a bill to not only ban all public smoking—with offenders to be sentenced to hard labor—but to prohibit smokers from holding public office. “This savage filth must cease,” one Indiana legislator declared. Presbyterians, Northern Baptists, and Methodists all called for a nationwide antismoking campaign, and even Lucy Page Gaston got back in the headlines.
Gaston had fallen on hard times since the war. In December of 1919 a coup d’état at International Anti-Cigarette League headquarters forced her to resign as league superintendent. She was not about to go away, however; the next day she announced her candidacy for President of the United States on the “clean morals, clean food and fearless law enforcement” platform. Although Gaston actually filed in the South Dakota Republican primary, she soon dropped out of the presidential campaign and set about reorganizing the old National Anti-Cigarette League. In 1920 she invaded Kansas and led a drive for strict enforcement of Kansas’ anticigarette law; Kansas law-enforcement authorities, harassed into action, made a few perfunctory arrests. Gaston also wrote public letters to President-elect Warren G. Harding and to Queen Mary, urging them to quit smoking cigarettes. Finally she proved to be more than even upright Kansas could handle; in January, 1921, an embarrassed Kansas Anti-Cigarette League fired her, and Gaston set out for a new campaign in Iowa. A few months later the National Anti-Cigarette League board of directors, noting that what Gaston called her “Carry Nation tactics” were no longer the most effective means of fighting the cigarette evil, also fired her. At sixty-one, after twenty-five years of anticigarette campaigning, Lucy Page Gaston was out of a job.
Despite all the postwar antismoking activity, the movement seemed to be foundering. Between 1919 and 1921 Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, and Tennessee repealed their ineffective cigarette prohibition laws, and in 1921 the Idaho legislature first passed, and then almost immediately repealed, a ban on cigarette sales. In fact, only one state enacted a new, prohibitory anticigarette and antismoking law during the postwar antismoking campaign. That state was Utah.
Utah had banned cigarette sales to minors in 1896, but although cigarette prohibition bills were considered in later years, Utah generally muddled through the pre-war crusade without actively joining in. The postwar revival of that crusade found congenial ground in the state, however, particularly within the powerful Mormon church, and in 1920 a church publication hinted that the time had come for all-out war. By February, 1921, the church had lined up enough support to secure easy passage of a bill prohibiting cigarette sales, cigarette advertising, and smoking in any form in certain “enclosed public places,” such as government offices, theaters, and—more germane to this article—cafés and restaurants. The bill sailed through the legislature with little public comment—no one really expected it to be enforced anyway—and was signed by Governor Charles Mabey. By June, 1921, cigarette sales and public after-dinner smokes were illegal in Utah, but as expected the new law affected Utah smokers hardly at all. Restaurant and theater proprietors seemed unwillingly to enforce it themselves, and the sheriff’s office and the police department bickered over who would have the thankless task. In the end, no one enforced it.
In 1922, however, Mormon church president Heber J. Grant urged Mormon voters to elect officials who would promise to enforce the new laws. Benjamin R. Harries vowed to do just that, and in November, 1922, he was elected Salt Lake County sheriff. Soon after he took office, Sheriff Harries ordered a number of raids on suspected cigarette dealers, whereupon the dealers paid homage to the law by hiding their cigarettes and charging bootleg prices for them. Sheriff Harries obviously decided that more dramatic measures were required, because on February 20, 1923, Mr. Bamberger, Mr. Lynch, and Mr. Newhouse found themselves in jail.
As if their march down Main Street had not been humiliating enough, the three men were then informed that each would have to post a ten-dollar bond before he could be let go. The implication that so measly a sum could substitute for their word of honor was simply too much; an argument ensued. The three finally were released on their own recognizance by Judge Noel S. Pratt, but not before they had chided deputies Mauss and Harris for not also arresting McKay. That did not help them, but it did result in another complaint being sworn. It was served by telephone, and McKay promised to surrender himself the next morning. Later that day Newhouse told a newspaper reporter that the entire affair was a “frame-up” and a political ploy by Sheriff Harries and his “asinine deputies.” Sheriff Harries dismissed the accusations as “bosh” and ordered his deputies to continue to enforce the law. The next day several deputies raided the Hotel Utah grill room and the state capitol (where the legislature was in session) and arrested six more smokers. The deputies were disappointed when they could find no smoking legislators to arrest.
The Salt Lake business community, then in the midst of a promotional campaign to attract new commerce and industry to the area, was horrified, not only by the arrests themselves but even more so by the awful publicity the entire episode had generated. Within twenty-four hours snickering news accounts of the Salt Lake antismoking campaign had been plastered across newspaper pages from New York to San Francisco, and already there were reports that scheduled conventions in the city would be canceled if it continued. While restaurant and café owners posted signs reading “Look Out for Mike and John”—meaning deputies Mauss and Harris—or, more defiantly, “Dine and Smoke Here,” members of the Salt Lake chamber of commerce met to plan a course of action. They soon were joined by representatives of the Salt Lake Lions Club, the Utah Manufacturers Association, and others. A few days later, as steam whistles throughout the city were sounded to protest the controversial laws, the prosmoking faction convened a standing-room-only meeting at the Orpheum Theater. “From coast to coast and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, Utah today is the object of ridicule,” one businessman told the crowd. Others compared the meeting to the Boston Tea Party as a symbol of resistance to oppression. The formation of a new political party—“The Party of Freedom”—was announced, and Salt Lake City seemed about to be rent asunder by the issue.
The pressure finally proved too much for even the strongest supporters of the antismoking laws. Within a week the Deseret News , a Mormon publication, signaled partial surrender by endorsing a pending revision of the laws to allow cigarette sales to adults and reduce greatly the restrictions on public smoking. The amendment bill streaked through the legislature and was signed by a no doubt relieved Governor Mabey. Charges against Bamberger and his partners in crime were dropped. The Utah crusade was over.
The Utah anticigarette law was the last of its kind; although North Dakota and Kansas kept theirs until 1925 and 1927, respectively, they were never seriously enforced, Utah having demonstrated that strict enforcement caused more problems than no enforcement at all. There were periodic calls for the abolition of cigarettes and smoking by the WCTU, the Non-Smokers League, and others, but they never amounted to much; by the mid-1920’s legislative action against smoking by adults had been thoroughly discredited. Antismoking emphasis shifted to women and children. The movement lost its most dedicated campaigner in 1924, when Lucy Page Gaston was struck by a streetcar as she left an anticigarette meeting in Chicago. She miraculously survived the accident to die eight months later of throat cancer. A delegation of schoolchildren recited the Clean Life Pledge at her funeral.
Cigarette sales continued to climb, reaching the magical 100-billion-a-year mark in 1928. Organized antismoking activity virtually disappeared in the 1930’s and 1940’s, save for occasional pronouncements by religious groups and some barbed attacks by the Reader’s Digest . By the 1950’s medical evidence against cigarettes began to reach mildly alarming proportions; in response, cigarettes sprouted filters and the tobacco companies began to diversify into nontobacco products. In 1964 Surgeon General Luther Terry dropped his bombshell, and smokers began to worry. Cigarettes once again became the object of legislative action; packs carried health warnings, and the Marlboro Man rode off the television screen and onto the back covers of magazines. Nonsmokers began to demand smoke-free air in public, and states passed “indoor clean air acts.” In 1976 the Utah legislature passed the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act, which prohibits smoking in certain “enclosed indoor areas, such as stores, offices, hospitals, and restaurants. So far the antismoking law has been generally ignored, due to a lack of funds for enforcement, and some Utah smokers continue to violate the law after every public meal.
State officials are planning a crackdown.