History of smoking Bans
This week, New York became the latest U.S. city to forbid smoking in outdoor public spaces, including parks, beaches and pools. While we often think of bans and restrictions on cigarettes and tobacco products as a relatively recent phenomenon, such prohibitions have a long and complex history dating back to at least the late 16th century. Here are just a few of the many milestones in our ambivalent and ultimately devastating relationship with tobacco.
Urban VII may have had the shortest papacy of any pope—he died of malaria two weeks after the death of his successor—but he nonetheless managed to issue the first anti-smoking edict in history during his brief reign. Anyone who “took tobacco in the porchway of or inside a church, whether by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe, or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose” would risk excommunication. The law remained on the books in various forms until 1724, when Pope Benedict XIII, a smoker himself, repealed it.
An early and ardent anti-smoking crusader, King James I of England penned the manifesto “A Counterblaste to Tobacco, ” describing the habit as unhealthy and lambasting his subjects for imitating “the barbarous and beastly maners of the wilde, godlesse, and slavish Indians.” (European settlers were introduced to the practice of consuming tobacco by Native Americans.) “[T]here cannot be a more base, and yet hurtfull, corruption in a Countrey, then is the vile use (or rather abuse) of taking Tobacco in this Kingdome, ” James wrote. The king also called into question tobacco’s supposed medicinal benefits at a time when it was used as a cure-all for anything from colds to gastrointestinal distress to bad breath to cancer, and even raised the issue of secondhand smoke, which he described as “hatefull to the nose.” James’ loathing of tobacco led him to jack up excise taxes and tariffs on the product. Some historians have surmised that his antipathy was a direct result of his sworn enemy Sir Walter Raleigh’s penchant for puffing on a pipe.
China outlawed the use or cultivation of tobacco products, and in 1638 made either activity punishable by decapitation.