More and more cities and states around the country are banning smoking in public places, much to the chagrin of smokers. Is this sort of strong, successful anti-smoking movement a new development? Hardly. Opposition to smoking has been around almost as long as smoking itself, and some of the historical measures to curb lighting up might surprise you.
Pope Urban VII’s papacy began on September 15, 1590. It ended with his death from malaria less than two weeks later. Although he didn’t spend much time as the head of the Catholic Church, Urban VII was around long enough to make his feelings on tobacco known. He banned all tobacco “in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose.” The penalty for breaking his edict? Excommunication.
Urban VII’s crackdown is considered to be history’s first public smoking ban. Various papal bans on smoking stuck around until 1724, when tobacco-loving Pope Benedict XIII gave Catholics the thumbs-up to light up again.
King James I of England was no fan of tobacco, but instead of whining about it, he picked up his pen. In 1604, James wrote the treatise A Counterblaste to Tobacco, and true to form for early 17th century pamphlets, the King didn’t pull any punches, writing, “What honour or policie can move us to imitate the barbarous and beastly maners of the wilde, godlesse, and slavish Indians, especially in so vile and stinking a custom?”
Ouch. Anti-Indian racism aside, James also warned of potential dangers from second-hand smoke and lung damage in addition to making a much simpler argument against tobacco smoke: it stinks. Later he refers to smoking as “a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the black and stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse.”
For someone with such strong feelings about smoke, James I amazingly didn’t ban tobacco altogether, though. He did, however, jack up excise taxes and tariffs on the weed by upwards of 4,000%. Interestingly, early 20th century tobacconist and writer Alfred Dunhill speculated in The Pipe Book that James’ hatred of tobacco may have stemmed from how much the monarch loathed Sir Walter Raleigh, who was often seen smoking a pipe and actually turned Queen Elizabeth I on to smoking in 1600.
When Sultan Murad IV took over the Ottoman Empire in 1623, he inherited a land filled with corruption and decadence. He took care of it quickly, though, and by 1633 Murad had banned all tobacco, alcohol, and coffee from his empire. Murad IV made Pope Urban VII look like a pushover, too; his punishment for breaking the ban was death.
Murad IV didn’t leave enforcement to his minions, either. He supposedly walked the streets of Istanbul in plain clothes and used his mace to execute anyone he caught using tobacco. As many as 18 people a day met their demise for smoking until Murad’s successor, Ibrahim the Mad, lifted the ban.
At around the same time, Russia instituted a similar ban. First-time offenders would get a slit nose, take a beating, or be exiled in Siberia. Repeat offenders earned themselves an execution. These stiff penalties hung around until Peter the Great came to power in 1682.
French tobacco enthusiasts found themselves on the receiving end of a bit of a curveball in 1635. They could still smoke, but they would have to buy their tobacco from an apothecary. They would also need a doctor’s prescription. Luckily for smokers, this restriction didn’t last too long. In 1637, King Louis XIII, a snuff man, repealed all of the anti-tobacco laws.
Early American colonists may have been making some nice loot selling tobacco, but that doesn’t mean they were totally in favor of using it. In 1632, Massachusetts became wary of the fire danger from smoldering butts, so it banned outdoor smoking. Connecticut followed suit in 1647 when it dictated that citizens could only smoke once a day, and even then one couldn’t be a social smoker, since the law dictated that smokers could only burn one when “not in company with any other.” In the 1680s, Philadelphia joined in with a ban on smoking in the city’s streets.
Movies may depict the turn of the 20th century as a time of smoke-filled rooms, but in truth you couldn’t even pick up a pack of cigarettes in many states. By 1900, Washington, Iowa, Tennessee, and North Dakota had all banned the sale of cigarettes, and by 1920 11 other states had enacted similar bans.
Some states were so quick to ban cigarettes over a concern that customers might be getting more than they bargained for when they bought a pack. When a Tennessean challenged his state’s cigarette ban before the Supreme Court in 1900, the Justices upheld the prohibition partially due to concern over adulterated smokes, writing, “[T]here are many whose tobacco has been mixed with opium or some other drug, and whose wrapper has been saturated in a solution of arsenic.”
Did these bans put an end to American smoking? Not quite. Although buying cigarettes wasn’t legal in 15 states, cigars were a booming business. In 1901, four out of every five American men burned at least one stogie a day, and tobacconists sold 6 billion cigars a year. Like the prohibition of alcohol, these cigarette bans gradually fell out of favor, and after Kansas repealed its restrictions in 1927 none of the bans remained on the books.
One thing you might not know about Hitler: he was a rabid opponent of smoking. German scientists were among the first to study the links between tobacco use and lung disease, and the Nazi regime aggressively sought to suppress tobacco use. In addition to implementing high tobacco taxes, Hitler banned smoking in German universities, government buildings, and Nazi party offices. After 1942, restaurants weren’t allowed to sell smokes to female customers.
But when the Nazis fell, their bans fell with them . After the party’s 1945 collapse, cigarettes actually became an unofficial currency in Germany’s war-ravaged economy.
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