Cigarette Smoking Across The Ages

Was smoking always considered taboo for teens (or younger) in the 1950’s or earlier decades? If so, why was it taboo? I WAG the taboo issue was based strictly on appearances (like women shouldn’t smoke cigars)? I mean, they didn’t know about the dangers yet, right? Or, were the dangers suspected even back then? Hmm…maybe it falls into the category of “I know it’s wrong when I see it, but I don’t know why it’s wrong.”

Just sniffing for clues…

  • Jinx

Up until World War I, cigarettes were seen as a bit effiminate by men, but the inconvenience of pipes and cigars on the battle field changed all of that, and cigarettes became popular in the US.

In the early part of the 20th century, women who smoked were seen as “hussies” and smoking in public was a shocking thing to do. One woman was arrested in New York in 1922 for smoking. By the middle of the 1920’s, however, smoking among women was so popular that a study at Ohio Univeristy revealed that 1/3 of the women students smoked. By the Thirties, women consumed over ten percent of all cirgarettes sold.

In 1929, a group of high-class ladies in New York marched in the Easter parade smoking cigarettes, calling them “Torches of Freedom.” The right to smoke became entertwined in the women’s rights movement through a stroke of genious of a PR man named Edward Bernays who set the whole thing up to increase cigarette sales by making them socially acceptable.

It worked. By 1944, 36% of women were smokers. Almost all of the movie stars of the era were smokers, and it was billed as a way to control one’s weight: “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” was a popular campaign. Here is a great article on women’s lib and smoking.

As long as the adults around them have smoked, so have teenagers. The more taboo the practice becomes, the more kids who want to do it to look mature, cool and daring. While it was never quite an “acceptable” thing for kids to do, when have kids ever paid much attention to what adults have found acceptable?

It may have been considered “taboo”, but it wasn’t always illegal. Many areas had no real laws against underagers smoking. This, of course, has change in the last 10-15 years.

When I went to high school (West Bend West high, West Bend, Wisconsin) the school actually had a designated smoking area for students called the “Smoking Pit”. It was a mall area located between East and West high schools, and it was, in fact, an official, authorized area for students to smoke. I couldn’t imagine any school having such a thing now days.

(The smoking Pit has, sense my graduation, been eleminated).

Some people still hold onto these opinions today. Back in '97, just before I finished my final year at school, my art teacher tore a strip off one of my fellow classmates after seeing her smoking on the way to school that morning:

“Gemma! Didn’t you know it’s not nice for a woman to smoke in the street? It looks common!”

Of course, she continued to smoke outside the school gates each day, knowing full well said teacher would drive past and see her.

It wasn’t considered taboo for teens even after the 1950s, at least if my memory serves.

Back when I was at high school in the 1970s, I remember that there was a law that stated that you had to be at least 16 to buy cigarettes. Of course, the law wasn’t enforced that stringently; younger kids often bought them too.

And like pkbites’ experiences, it wasn’t unusual to see students outside our high school smoking before class, at lunch, and after class. We had no designated area though; we could smoke anywhere, and the school had put heavy sand ashtrays by each entrance so we wouldn’t litter butts all over.

In fact, during school dances, part of the cafeteria was designated as a smoking area.

No cites, unfortunately; just my memory. Of course, this was the 1970s (later than the 1950s you were asking about, Jinx) and the drinking age was 18. Our prom, which was held at a downtown hotel, not only had ashtrays on every table, but also a cash bar. Things have changed indeed!

During the first half of the 20th century smoking was taboo for the young because the bad effects of smoking were known even then.

We oldsters didn’t call them “coffin nails” for nothing.

So----just as in booze,driving,voting etc---------smoking was considered an “Adult” pastime-----based on having reached a state of wisdom which allowed free decision,good or bad.

Of course,in those days, one could make up one’s own mind about one’s personnal habits.

We didn’t have,and didn’t need, government watchdogs and raving fanatics to tell us what to do and when to do it behind our own closed doors.

Every walk-of -life smoked----clergy,doctors,dentists,some nuns,mothers,fathers------pick a category.

If the second hand smoke theory had existed then-------the entire US population would have disappeared during the 20s and 30s


I started at age 9------and quit 71 years later after open heart surgery.

Just put them down and walked away------no patch needed.

And in that entire time I never had a coughing problem------go figure

Here’s a thread

with a different smoking question.

Coffin nails as a slang term for cigarettes dates back to the 19th century.

from the OED Online

People knew cigarettes were unhealthy, just as they knew that liquor and drugs were unhealthy. That’s why they are called vices. :wink:

Of course, these products are also addicting, and there were few ways other than cold turkey to break the habit and little societal pressure to do so.

And cigarettes certainly were taboo for teens in the 50s and 60s and undoubtedly at all earlier times. Didn’t mean that some didn’t smoke.

Ahh, the good old days. I also finished high school in the 1970s. Senior were allowed to smoke in the school building (not in class, but we had a special senior room where we could do pretty much whatever we wanted. The only thing we had to go outside to smoke was pot.

And at the prom, we had not only ashtrays, but an open bar.

We didn’t have any alcohol at the Prom (though the drinking age was 18) but there was a tradition known as “Friday Beer” where 18 year old seniors got to drink tap beer in a designated place:cool:. (after school of course;)). Friday beer was eventually done away with from the high school, but moved over to the local junior college where I guess it remained until the drinking age was raised.

I very seriously wonder if things like “graduated drivers licenses” and higher ages for drinking and smoking has, or eventually will have, an evolutionary effect on the maturity level of people in their late teens. It’s a psychology question I know. But does removing adult decisions (to drink/smoke/drive, etc) from a persons list of options force them, somewhat, to remain in a child like state of mind longer than those of us who had those adult options?