“The Pleasures of Tobacco"

January 11, 1868

artist unknown

“The Pleasures of Tobacco"

Public Health; Tobacco;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

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To which young and promising Tom Smudger abandons himself. He wasteth the midnight oil, quantities of Killikinick, and himself simultaneously.

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon of January 1868 warns of the deadly consequences of smoking tobacco.

It may seem surprising, but nearly a century before the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General declared that tobacco may cause cancer, an anti-tobacco movement was already in existence, putting forward most of the arguments used today against such products. In 1867, Harper’s Weekly editor George William Curtis, who had himself stopped smoking in the 1850s, pleaded with his tobacco-smoking readers to ask themselves whether their habit was conducive to good health. Among several points, he mentioned that tobacco products contain ingredients which are poisonous to the human body, and how those who quit smoking undergo an improvement in their health.

Harper’s Weekly carried advertisements for many tobacco products, but it also published notices for a “tobacco antidote” which “removes forever all desire for tobacco” and for a “nicotine-free” smoking tobacco. Yet, in the absence of definitive scientific evidence at the time, opinions on tobacco use were diverse and contradictory. A news item in an 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly contended that moderate smoking did no harm, and dismissed as “utterly groundless” claims that linked tobacco use to cancer. This 1868 cartoon, however, takes an unambiguous stance that smoking tobacco is a deadly habit.

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Pleasures of Tobacco"
June 17, 2024

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