Today, the serious health hazards of smoking are common knowledge. In the past, however, smoking was a very common, if not (at certain times and among some demographics) near-universal habit (though allegedly, not “everyone” smoked in the time of old Hollywood movies, as the latter would suggest; this was apparently product placement, and there were a not insignificant number of non-smokers even in the 1950s). It is my understanding that in 1964, the US Surgeon General came out with a clear statement that smoking was harmful to health, which resulted in the current state of affairs. I would be interested in public awareness of the hazards of smoking prior to that date. Specifically, these two things:
1 - Did the average person in the first half of the 20th century sincerely believe that smoking, if not done to excess, was perfectly safe for one’s health, or did they have some level of consciousness that it was bad, perhaps lying to themselves about it? I know there were published opinions on the harmfulness of smoking before 1964, going back to the very time when smoking was beginning to be common among Europeans (in the 17th century, King James VI of Scotland/I of England published a book against smoking, in which he claimed that smoking affected basically the same organs that we know it affects today). Were those ads for cigarettes that claimed the brand in question was endorsed by doctors meant to counteract in the public mind already existent concerns about health hazards?
2 - One way or another, a lot more adults used to smoke than today. Yet if we look at the time when smoking was common, we see that people even back then were severely against smoking in the case of children. Examples from fact and fiction: 1) A reporter from ca. 1905 writes about how boy sailors in the Royal Navy are forbidden to smoke before they are 18, and describes the harsh corporal punishment administered to one teenage sailor who dared to break the rule. 2) There’s an old Oor Wullie comic (Oor Wullie, I.E., “Our Willie” is a Scottish comic strip about a Tom Sawyer-like boy) where Wullie’s father points out another boy smoking, telling Wullie that he is not to imitate his example. Wullie tries to convince the boy not to smoke, but one thing leads to another, the other boy manipulates the cigarette into Wullie’s hands; a lady tells on Wullie, and Wullie’s father ends up taking him into a shed and thrashing him. 3) Similarly in the 1949 Donald Duck short “Donald’s Happy Birthday”, Donald’s nephews try to earn money to buy him a cigar box as a birthday present. Donald gets suspicious as to why they want money, spies on them, and sees they are buying a cigar. He flies into an uncontrolled rage and forces them to smoke the entire box, and only when he has smoked them to an inch away from death does he read their happy birthday message inside the box and realize that the box was meant for him! So my question: whence this severe double standard? Why did it use to be A-OK for an adult to smoke, but not for a child? Was it because people thought it was safe for an adult to smoke, but unhealthy if you started early? Or because, deep down, people knew it was a bad habit, and didn’t want people beginning it too early? Or because they didn’t want to end up paying for their child’s addiction? Or was it simply a matter of propriety (just like how, before the 1920s it wasn’t really considered proper for women to smoke)?