Cornhill Magazine,  6 (1862), 605–15.

Tobacco: Its Use and Abuses

[Francis E Anstie]




Narcotics, Temperance, Morality, Physiological Chemistry, Neurology, Controversy, Adulteration, Class, Universities

People mentioned:

Edward Smith , Edward W Lane

Publications cited:

[Smith 1863] , Ure 1839

    Aware that the 'popular arguments for and against the use of tobacco are even more unsatisfactory than are the common disputes about alcohol', Anstie proposes to avoid 'moral hysterics' and instead 'consider calmly the purely physiological aspect of the question, apart from right and wrong'. Although the 'Anacreon and the Cruikshank of tobacco have yet to make their appearance', it seems that 'the latter rôle will soon be filled' by certain medical practitioners. (605) Indeed, the 'scientific men of the anti-tobacco party have paraded to the gaze of the public [...] many horrifying descriptions' of the adverse effects of smoking. The afflictions described, however, are, as the observations of Joseph H S Beau have shown, 'clearly the result of excess—of immoderately large doses' of tobacco, and 'have nothing whatever to do with the effects of tobacco taken by moderate snuffers or smokers'. In fact, when taken in moderation, tobacco has 'a very decided stimulant effect upon the system', which is 'an integral part of the physiological action of tobacco' and is 'not followed by any unhealthy depressive reaction'. (607) The prevalent medical 'theory that tobacco is in all doses a merely stupefying and depressing agent, is contradicted by the most commonplace facts'. We do not, for instance, 'think of Sir Walter Ralegh, the arch-fumigator himself, as a particularly listless or inactive individual', and during the 'severest exertions' of the 'agricultural labourer' one can see these 'clodhoppers smoking most vigorously'. (608) It is absurd to speak of people who consume tobacco in moderation as 'the subjects of a "slavery"', for the 'feeling of masterless irrepressible craving for any narcotic is invariably the result of nervous exhaustion' induced by a 'poison [...] which enfeebles the nervous system', and most 'smokers never in their lives experience any such sensation' (609–10). The common argument that 'the practice of smoking, leads to excessive drinking' is refuted if we 'look at the men at the universities', where 'excessive smoking is carried to a pitch that would make the hair of any anti-tobacconal stand on end with horror; and yet the instances of habitual alcoholic excess are very few, and are becoming, me teste, still fewer' (614).

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