September 25, 2011 - Health Alert, 1878: Smoking Is Harmful!

Almost a century before the U.S. surgeon general issued a report confirming the dangers of smoking tobacco, on this date in 1878 the English doctor Charles R. Drysdale published his findings about the dangers of tobacco in The Times of London.

Drysdale had discovered evidence of tobacco's harm to the heart, lungs, and even skin, and he had written on these dangers for about a decade, including an entire book called Tobacco and the Diseases It Produces. As the senior physician to the Metropolitan Free Hospital in London, Drysdale's warnings should perhaps have had a lot of influence on the public. Yet it was a good long while before the general public began to acknowledge that smoking tobacco is harmful.

Perhaps Drysdale's polite and academic writing didn't impact people. He wrote that smoking tobacco was “the most evident of all the retrograde influences of our time.” But a couple of centuries earlier (and without the scientific research to back him up), England's King James I was a lot more direct: He wrote that the use of tobacco was “a custome loathsome to the eye, hateful to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.” And in 1634 the Russian Czar ordered that people who smoked or sold tobacco would thereafter have their noses slit! Yuck!

However, King James's harsh words, and the Czar's repulsive punishment, didn't slow the adoption of the tobacco habit, either.

When speaking about the harm of smoking, it is important to remember that it's not just that smokers suffer earlier deaths, on average, than non-smokers; smokers also tend to suffer with many more, and more severe, illnesses all through their lives and from premature wrinkling of the skin. They have to put up with cravings and withdrawals while in non-smoking places (on airplanes, in schools, in many restaurants and other public places), and they have to deal with discoloration of their teeth and fingers, and odor. And all of this pain and suffering, stink and stain and death--it all costs smokers a lot of money! Of course the computation of how much smokers spend on cigarettes depends on how long they smoke, and how much they smoke each day, but the average smoker can count on spending thousands of dollars every year, and about 92,000 pounds in a lifetime, in the U.K., or $100,000 to $200,000 in a lifetime, in the U.S.

People disagree about the best way to warn people about the dangers of smoking. Check out this earlier post about warning labels—including the disgusting-photos type of warning label. 

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