Friday, July 24, 2009

Anti-smokers resort to century old tactics

There are many who may think the current anti-smoking campaign is something new. It's not. The humble tobacco leaf has been at the centre of controversy since Columbus discovered America and some of his crew members took the evil weed back to Spain.

Villagers at home, seeing smoke issue forth from the mouth and nostrils of one of the crew members, thought him to be a fire breathing dragon and had him slain by the Inquisition.

OK, OK. I made up the part about the fire breathing dragon. But history shows that Rodrigo de Jerez, a crew member of Columbus, became a confirmed smoker and took the habit back to his hometown in Spain. And, his neighbours were so frightened by the sight of someone smoking, he was imprisoned by the holy inquisitors for 7 years. Lucky for him he wasn't caught smoking a joint, God knows what they might have done to him.

According to an 1981 article by Gordon Dillow found on the Legacy tobacco documents site,.the first big anti-smoker campaign in North America was launched around 1890, although there were a few minor skirmishes before that. And, according to Dillow, in the early part of the twentieth century, the anti-smoker fanatics were no less inclined to exaggeration than they are today. And, they lied just as good too.

Dillow's article mentions a news item from the New York Times in 1890. "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."

Judging from this unbiased example of investigative journalism, we must assume that the Times at the time supported the anti-smoker agenda. Some things never change.

Education magazine told its readers in 1907: "There are in the United States to-day 500,000 boys and youths who are habitual cigarette smokers. Few of them can be educated beyond the eighth grade, and practically all of them are destined to remain physical and mental dwarfs."

Don't laugh. There could be some validity to that statement. On a personal note, I stand six foot tall and tip the scales at 190 pounds. I've been smoking for 47 years. Standing beside my son, however, I look like a chimpanzee standing next to a gorilla (even without a cigarette in my hand). So, maybe smoking did stunt my growth. And, over the past half-century, I've had more than one individual question my intelligence.

The same publication cites several other cases which point out the serious impact smoking had on kids. "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."

Geez. Smoking the evil Indian weed turned the kid into a physical wreck; a half blind, hearing impaired shrimp of a thief who was too dumb to graduate from first grade. That's serious shit. And after only 9 years of smoking. I guess we can safely assume he was an orphan. Otherwise, his parents might have noticed he had a problem and done something to correct it.

And just like today, cigarettes were claimed to be the cause of every illness under the sun. Dillow notes in his article: “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 nineteenth century America, constipation.”

And, anti-smoker crusaders were just as prone to the use of frightening and/or fraudulent statistics. Apparently, one Reverend George Trask, published an anti-smoking pamphlet entitled “Thoughts and Stories for American Lads", warning of the dangers of tobacco. In 1859 he wrote: "Physicians tell us that twenty thousand or more in our own land are killed by tobacco every year. German physicians tell us that of deaths of men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, one-half originate from this source."

Uh-huh. Apparently, the science was as suspect a century-and-a-half ago as it is today. Everything old, it seems, is new again.

1 comment:

Michael J. McFadden said...

Wonderful writing and great referencing as always Rambler! That story of the poor first grader brought tears to my pet crocodile's eyes.

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"