Anti-Smoking, ca. 1879

In 1879 the Phrenological Journal published two short anti-smoking reports. The first, in February, purportedly summarized an article in the British Medical Monthly: “What Smoking does for Boys.” Apparently a physician concerned by the number of boys under 15 he saw smoking, decided to see if he could document the health issues related to smoking. So he gathered together 38 boys ranging from 9 to 15 and examined them.[1] He found “injurious traces of the habit” and

various disorders of the circulation and digestion, palpitation of the heart, and a more or less taste for strong drink, … frequent bleeding of the nose, disturbed sleep, slight ulceration of mucous membrane of the mouth.

They all showed signs of general weakness. When they stopped smoking, “health and strength were soon restored.” We should believe these claims, the Phrenological Journal assures us, because “these facts are given under the authority of the British Medical Monthly.”

Anti-smoking illustration in the Phrenological Journal

In June, the Phrenological Journal published a slightly longer piece lambasting men for smoking not because it was bad for your health, but because it was a filthy, stinky, degrading habit.

Young man, if you wish to make yourself obnoxious to a large portion of the genteel, and a still larger portion of the sensible people; if you want to contract a habit that makes necessary separate accommodation for you in cars or on boats, where your offense may not smell in the nostrils of respectable people; which makes them drop out of the atmosphere of your smokestack, or swing around the mephitic pools you leave at intervals in your wake — a habit which turns you out of the parlor and drawing-room into the club-house, bar-room, or into the streets — from the society of refined ladies into a lower order of social intercourse; which fills your system with a poison so offensive that the breath you exhale, and the insensible perspiration you cast off, vitiates the air for rods about you, and makes you a walking nuisance from which delicate nostrils turn away in disgust — then begin early the use of tobacco.

The author continues for another four paragraphs in the same tone of moral condemnation — e.g., referring to smoking as a “great canker worm” and beseeching the reader: “don’t steep your own body in the distilled juices of this defiling and paralyzing poison.” — never mentioning any health effects.

I don’t see immediately any connection between the use of tobacco and the Phrenological Journal. But clearly the editors of the journal saw the connection. I wonder how many other anti-smoking articles appeared in the pages of the journal.


  1. Clearly this physician was operating under a different set of ethical guidelines. I assume he didn’t have to get the approval from the 19th-century version of an IRB.  ↩