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  • Darlene Forshage

Smokin' on the Back Porch

by Anne Adams


Smokin' on the Back Porch

By Anne Adams

Today many offices, stores, and living spaces are smoke-free so smokers who want to light up usually go outside or to a designated area. Yet while smoking was once much more common there have always been those who were concerned about its health dangers. One of these groups was the Texas State Teachers Association as in 1910 they passed a resolution opposing smoking in young people. And they were especially concerned since they believed that smoking caused insanity.

The Athens Weekly Review article in the February 17, 1910 issue provided details of the resolution which listed the unhealthy side effects of smoking – effects that are even recognized today. Smoking, they believed, “takes away the appetite…irritates the air cells of the lungs…causes palpitation of the heart, weakens the muscles, excites, stupefies and paralyzes the brain and nerves…” However, they were also sure that smoking “…cripples the memory, lessens the power to think…often leads to bad company and drunkenness…” And of course, it causes insanity.

At the time smoking cigars and cigarettes was actually a “guy thing” done not just at home but more often in the all-male atmosphere of a club, tavern, or office. Also, many men (and a few women) chewed tobacco or dipped snuff and many a housewife and building janitor saw the effects when they dealt with the ever-present spittoon.

So how did the Review respond to this resolution? They felt that while they agreed with the concept they also wondered how many of the teachers “indulged in cigars, chewing tobacco and ‘dipping’ snuff.” They also proposed that smoking teachers be ineligible for employment for Texas.

However, in the article the reporter did describe some of the dangers to the youth of Texas:”…there is no sort of doubt that the cigarette…habits are doing more damage to the human family than intoxicating liquors, especially wines and beer.”

Then an editorial from the Dallas News, published in the May 5, 1910, Review, related that sometimes a smoker had a hard time finding a job. The editor wrote: “Go read the want ads in the daily papers for men to work at the desk, counter, trades, shops, and factories. They usually wind up this way: ‘Cigarette fiends need not apply.’” Clearly it was implied that smokers were not employable because “…a thousand and one tests have proved that the users of the weed are less competent than the non-users.”

Another article in the December 1, 1910 issue of the Review was submitted by a prominent educator of the time as he dealt with the smoking issue. According to President David Starr Jordan of Leland Stanford University, “…boys who smoke cigarettes are like wormy apples. They drop long after harvest time. They rarely make failures in the afterlife because they do not have any afterlife.”

Professor Jordan continued: “When a boy begins to make a business of filling frequently the 725,000,000 air cells of his lungs with nicotine, carbon monoxide and other poisons in cigarette smoke, it keeps him too busy to attend successfully too much of anything else. Making a chimney of his nose soon becomes his chief occupation.”

However, smoking wasn’t just a single issue because the writer was sure that there were further dangers. He wrote “whiskey drinking easily follows cigarette smoking, as this creates a thirst which ‘the town pump cannot satisfy.’ Cocaine, opium and other drugs also frequently follow indulgence of cigarettes.” Then he quotes another source: “If something is not done to check cigarette smoking and the vice that goes with it, we shall not be able to build insane asylums enough for the victims.”

Of course, another health concern by many at the time was the use of patent medicines sometimes containing even opium and cocaine and was readily available over the counter. Eventually, national legislation required an ingredient listing on medicines so consumers became more aware of what they were using. Also, parents certainly would want to know what was in their children’s medicine. This was evident in one ad placed just above that Dallas editorial. The remedy promoted a child’s cough remedy and assured the purchaser:” It contains no opium or other narcotics and can be given with implicit confidence.”


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