When did quitting smoking become a thing?

Obviously commonplace since the Surgeon General’s report in 1964, but health risks had been known long before that. When did the idea of quitting smoking start obtaining currency? Did people in the 1930s, for example, say to one another, 'I know I need to quit. . . ?"

I’m not sure what you mean by getting currency, but my mother quite in the late 1950’s and knowing one should quit was common. Alan Sherman in a parody song called Sir Greenbaum from the early '60s talks about giving up smoting for good.
None of this was “give it up or die” though.


I don’t believe that it was “obviously commonplace” to think about quitting smoking in 1964. If you scroll down on the link, you’ll see on the chart that people really didn’t start to quit in large numbers until around 1980, 16 years after the Surgeon General’s report came out. As I recall, people just weren’t buying the 1964 report. They had been told for so long that smoking was fine or even healthy that the rather sudden turn around took awhile to sink in.

One point of anecdata:

I never knew my father to smoke, but I’ve been told that he smoked heavily once upon a time. As the story went, he developed serious and chronic bronchitis, and his doctor told him to quit. This must have been around the mid 1950’s at the very latest. And, as the story goes, he did just that. He went home, threw his last pack away, and quit cold-turkey right then, just like that.

Well I hate to Godwin-ise a thread, but the Nazis ran an anti-smoking campaign back in the 1940s.

Just goes to show that even the Nazis got one thing right.

I remember our family physician quitting cold turkey after reading the 1964 report.

I was going to say, for whatever reason I always link the decline with C Everett Koop. There was something in him as a person or personality that he managed to get the message across better than anyone else. During his service as Surgeon General is when you first saw no-smoking areas and laws being enacted to limit public smoking. I believe he also played a roll in getting the warnings on tobacco and limiting advertising.

Data points:

1930’s cigarettes were “Coffin Nails” (note: I was not alive, this is “what I heard”)
1950’s cigarettes were “Cancer Sticks” (I heard this one first-hand)

In 1968, large school dorm: the person who DIDN’T smoke had to explain herself (allergy)

1980 Large,first run high-end movie theater: I smoked. With management’s blessing. In SF CA.

Business offices started becoming “No Smoking” areas in the mid-80’s (SF).

The term “Smoke Free” (and its inherent “And we’re Better than those others” snide-nosed attitude) came much later, just before people started getting sued for smoking in their own yards.

I quit in '92. IIRC.

The big problem that public health reports, like that of the Surgeon General in the US, and the GMC in the UK, is that everywhere one went at that time, there were advertisements for cigarettes and cigars; on billboards, TV and in the cinema, which showed the people who smoked as being the ‘cool’ guys. “You’re never alone with a Camel”.

On the other hand there were these killjoys saying that they might kill us at some point in the future. Of course, we all knew someone in their 90s who had smoked 20 a day ever since they were a toddler.

My dad quit in about 1952, and he was aware then of the medical risks of smoking, and proud that he quit.

In those days, there were ads that said “More doctors recommend Camels than any other cigarette”. But everybody actually knew that smoking was harmful to your health, and kids needed a note from their mom (purportedly) to buy cigarettes.

Pope Urban VII came out against tobacco in the late 16th century. He banned all tobacco "in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose." The penalty was excommunication.

More historical encouragement to quit may be found here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/23758/7-historical-bans-smoking

As long as we’re sharing anecdotes, I have a funny/tragic one regarding billboard advertisements. The wedding for my first marriage took place at a nice little gazebo downtown outside the city courthouse. It was a beautiful day and we took some lovely photos. Until I noticed that in the background of every single one was an anti-cancer billboard with a huge diseased lung on it.

Myself, I never smoked, I’ve always had asthma and I’m extremely allergic to cigarette smoke, so I appreciate anti-smoking campaigns reducing my contact with the stuff. But it sure was inconvenient that day. :stuck_out_tongue:

I quit back in 1959. This was at least partly because of the constant drumbeat of articles (Readers Digest had a lot of them) on the dangers and results of smoking. And when I finally made up my mind to quit it turned out to be very easy.

Back then, there were several gas stations just outside of St. Louis where one could buy a carton of Camels for $2.50 (non filtered; filters were for sissies). I sometimes amuse myself by estimating just how much money I’ve saved by quitting. Comes out to just under $100,000. And as a bonus, I’m still alive!

It’s been a while since I read them, but I’m pretty sure that Bertie Wooster and friends, heavy smokers all, sometimes talk about wanting to quit–because smoking made it hard to breathe, not because of cancer. There’s even a type of cigarettes they call “gaspers.”

ETA, most of these stories were written in the 20s/30s.

Nope, the protagonists of Wodehouse stories are uniformly pretty averse to having their tobacco consumption interfered with. However, the fact that it was occasionally interfered with testifies to the existence of medical opposition to tobacco use back in the day. But you’re right that it was opposed because it was considered generally bad for one’s health, not specifically because of cancer.

By the way, Wodehouse’s short story “The Man Who Gave Up Smoking” (which, like most such Wodehouse stories, ends with the protagonist happily resuming the habit) was published in 1929.

Here’s a 1950 article about giving up smoking. Clearly the notion of quitting had begun to be taken more seriously as a genuine and universal medical issue by that time, though there was still no popular consensus.

J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, wrote a book in 1890 about his experiences with tobacco, his eventual decision to quit, and some of the benefits that he thinks he received from quitting. So the idea of quitting as a noteworthy accomplishment seems to date as far back as 1890 at least.

Might have worked too, if he’d lived more than two weeks.

King James I of England in 1604 wrote “A Counterblaste to Tobacco
"What honour or policie can move us to imitate the barbarous and beastly maners of the wilde, godlesse, and slavish Indians, especially in so vile and stinking a custom?"

"a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the black and stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse."

James I didn’t ban tobacco rather applied prohibitive excises (4,000%) and those who wanted a favour or advancement didn’t smoke in the royal presence.

In the case of the Catholic Church, I think the ban on tobacco “in the porchway of or inside a church” may not have been for health or morality reasons but additionally for the fact the smell of tobacco lingers in enclosed areas long after the smokers leave and gets into the carpet and upholstery. Tobacco smoke also leaves a yellow-brown film that’s almost impossible to remove on everything it touches (e.g., priceless artwork). Whatever your opinion is about the Catholic Church or Pope Urban VII you can at least give them credit for preventing The Pietà and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from being stained by several centuries of accumulated tobacco smoke (not that they didn’t have other preservation problems to deal with).

No, it shows that current organizations like thetruth.org are fascist and Nazi-like! :smiley:

I grew up in the 70s and it was obvious to me that smoking had to be bad for you. I mean you were breathing smoke, didn’t take a rocket scientist (or a govt report) to understand. I too would say that it took until the 80s for quitting smoking to be a mainstream ‘thing’. But I still remember buying cigarettes for other people (adults) at stores in the 80s when I was in my mid to late teens and nobody gave a shit. By the 90s political correctness began to truly demonize smokers and tobacco companies, and so here we are today.

Nobody likes a quitter…