The recent debate over smoking in Madison bars and restaurants reminds us that the fight over the use of tobacco has been going on in our city for more than a century.
A letter to the editor of the Madison Democrat on May 22, 1904 addressed smoking at the University of Wisconsin: Eight of ten UW students smoke. Male smokers blow smoke into the faces of their dates without a second thought. They would be upset if someone blew smoke into the face of their mothers or sisters. Smoking will soon be the UW’s most pressing problem.
The following year, on March 7, the Assembly passed the Evans anti-cigarette bill by a vote of 76-1, prohibiting the manufacture or sale or giving away of cigarettes or cigarette paper in Wisconsin. Governor La Follette signed it on April 13. According to the Wisconsin State Journal: “It does not prohibit the smoking of the coffin nail, but users hereafter will be obliged to send outside of the state for their stock… The measure is aimed principally at the saving of young boys.”
In his 1916 book Madison Our Home, which was provided to Madison schools by the Madison Board of Commerce, Minister Frank A. Gilmore of the First Unitarian Society wrote: The effect of smoking upon the undeveloped nervous system of a boy is bad; it makes him dull and stupid; he cannot get his lessons and falls behind the others in his class. It is no good excuse for a boy to say that his father smokes – for his is the nervous system and constitution of a mature man. It is not right for boys to do some things which grown men do. Therefore the loyal boy will not be seen sneaking back of the school to smoke.
But cigarettes had their good points, helping the Allies defeat the Germans in the World War, as an ad in the March 24, 1919 Capital Times proclaimed: VICTORY… and cigarettes helped to win it. What a part the cigarette played! In those grim, tense moments, waiting for the word to “go;” in that blessed lull hours afterward, just before the relief party came; in those other, sterner moments, when his spirit fought to smile, what was the thing he wanted most? The cigarette!