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Tobacco laws have long been a source of debate

Published December 03. 2011 09:01AM

Pennsylvania has a history of tough tobacco laws.

In Colonial times, among the common offenses courts had to deal with were stealing, swearing, working on Sunday, assault and battery and selling rum to the Indians. But tobacco laws of the day were also strict. Anyone caught smoking tobacco in the streets of Philadelphia or New Castle was fined. The money collected was used to buy fire buckets and other fire apparatus.

During the roaring twenties in the 20th century, we find that few women would dare smoke a cigarette or cigar in public. In 1907, a Brooklyn newspaper columnist named Julius Chambers struck a nerve with a scathing opinion on the evils associated with smoking.

"As a smoker of long standing and confirmed habits, I am ready to admit that much of the criticism against smoking in public is justified," he wrote. "I do not single out the pale-cheeked boy who inhales his cigarette smoke and then blows it out through his nostrils."

He also had some harsh words for the cigar and pipe smokers.

"He (a boy smoker) is a disgusting spectacle, anywhere. But I refer to the men of apparent respectability who carry lighted cigars into crowded subway cars, or, because they want to appear English, burn tobacco in old pipes on the open cars. A rotten pipe is the filthiest thing in the world.

"To smoke a cigar in the street, when walking with a lady, is an act of utter disrespect. The fact that Englishmen carry briarwood pipes between their teeth, in daylight, when walking with ladies, does not mitigate the offense."

Smoking in the home and its effects on a man-wife relationship also brought Chambers' wrath.

"A true gentleman would no more think of smoking on the street with his wife, or any other lady, than he would of picking his teeth at a dinner table, " he wrote. "Understand me, I believe that in the privacy of a man's own house, he should smoke in any room except his wife's bedroom. Of course, if the wife owns the house, or he otherwise be a pensioner upon her bounty, the conditions may be altered.

"He may find it more convenient to smoke in the cellar, billiard-room or stable. A wife is entitled to opinions - unless, as often happens, the husband has given the domicile to his spouse. In such cases, it isn't the part of wisdom or common sense for the wife to constantly remind her companion of the fact.

"Mankind endures many hardships for the solace that tobacco gives, but there isn't any reason why women should be annoyed by smokers, any more than that a man should be compelled to grease his nose with tallow or rub rice powder upon his cheeks. A decent consideration of the members of the two sexes, one for the other, would simplify social problems very much.

"There isn't any reason why a wife should be called into a room to see her husband smoke. With as much propriety might the wife insist that her husband be present every time a shampooer "blondines" her hair or a dermatologist pulls stray hairs from her chin."

In an opinion titled "Women Smokers" on March 28, 1911, a Tamaqua Courier writer said that American society often copied the Europeans, where "women have smoked for ages in London and Paris."

"It is not commonly expected that women will teach their sons not to smoke," he stated.

Smoking was also a concern for those involved in health and fitness.

"The passion for success in athletics, the need of the fittest possible physique for success, will tend to increase sentiment against tobacco as a habit that tends to lower human efficiency," a writer stated. "It must be an underlying feeling of this kind that makes the prejudice against women smokers so very strong."

Later in the summer of 1911, the Courier printed another smoking-related article concerning the state's new school code. The writer said the new code could affect teachers who smoke and drink.

"It may be well for school teachers of Schuylkill County to give themselves a trial to see whether they can break off their tobacco habits, as there is a question whether the tobacco-using teacher will be eligible for election with the new school code in effect," he stated.

He then quoted the law: "No teacher's certificate shall be granted to any person who has not submitted to the superintendent of public instruction a certificate from a physician legally qualified to practice medicine in the Commonwealth, setting forth that said applicant is neither mentally nor physically disqualified by reason of tuberculosis or any other chronic or acute defect from successful performances of the duties of a teacher, nor to say any person who has a good moral character, or who is in the habit of using opium or any other narcotic drugs, in any form, or any intoxicating drink as a beverage."

The writer felt that the term "narcotic drugs" was open to interpretation and could apply to tobacco users.

"Tobacco is surely a narcotic, but whether it is a narcotic drug is to be settled along the same line as pure food, or rather adulterations, are settled," he wrote.

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