A Sparkling Vintage Life

smoking ladyFifty years ago this week, the landmark Surgeon General’s report was released that stated exactly how terrible smoking is for one’s health and why the government should get involved in putting an end to it. In spite of five decades of dire warnings about the evil weed, a recent AP article reported that, while the U. S. smoking rate has fallen by more than half to 18 percent [since 1964], “that still translates to more than 43 million smokers.”

Prior to around around 1920, women smoking in public was severely frowned upon. If ladies took a puff at all, they did so in the privacy of their own boudoirs. In 1908 the federal government actually banned women from smoking in public, a law that obviously did not last.

During and after the First World War, as efforts to gain the vote for women picked up steam, tobacco companies jumped on the image of the bold, modern suffragette to promote smoking to women. After all, think of the profits to be made if the other half of the population could be convinced to smoke! Women bearing lighted cigarettes marched in parades, and magazine ads began to depict women smokers as sophisticated and glamorous. Little by little, women courted outrage by smoking in public. As these things go, soon outrage turned to tight-lipped disapproval by uptight “old fogies.” The movies also began to show smoking females in a positive light. “Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford began their careers playing rich-girl flappers, roadhouse dollies, and office workers who expressed their sense of It [that is, modern sex appeal] by suggestively blowing cigarette smoke into the faces of their leading men,” wrote Betsy Israel in her book Bachelor Girl. By World War II, a woman with a cigarette in her hand no longer attracted attention, and by the 1970s Virginia Slims ads were crowing, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Congratulations on having won that fabulous {cough} privilege of smoking. After all, if men do it {wheeze, snort, hack}, why shouldn’t we?

Even before the health risks were known, however, certain populations continued to frown on smoking. Certain religious groups considered tobacco an intoxicant and smoking a vice on a par with drinking, gambling, and card playing. Other people continued to consider smoking plain bad manners. In the decade before the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, a 1957 book aimed at teenagers advised, “If you decide on smoking, your parents agree, and your allowance permits, don’t let it make you offensive. Stained fingers and lips, smoker’s breath, and clothes smelling of tobacco do not attract anyone. Nervous habits which often go with smoking, such as lighting up at the first opportunity and tossing off cigarettes like a machine, are anything but magnetic. Don’t enter elevators or buses exhaling smoke in people’s faces or down their necks. Don’t smoke in sops. Above all, don’t smoke in bed or in a hideout, such as a closet. This is not bad manners; it is lunacy. A polite young man, walking with a girl in a main street, will not have a cigarette in his mouth. In a side-street or byway, you can be more casual–if the girl does not object. Women do not smoke in the street, unless willing to be thought ‘hard-boiled.’ If in doubt about a girl’s smoking, you may politely offer her a cigarette when you take one, even if you hope she refuses.”

The book goes on to say, “Always in the presence of older people who are not smoking, or of strangers at a restaurant table, ask if they will be bothered by smoke before lighting a cigarette. Don’t give nonsmokers an overdose of fumes, making them feel as if they had been poisoned by nicotine. Leave off entirely when you are with anyone whose throat or nose is sensitive to smoke.At a dinner table, do not smoke unless your hostess suggests it. Smoking between courses shows small appreciation for food; smoking while you are eating is barbarous. Do not put ashes on a plate or in an emptied cup–wait for an ash tray to be provided. Vases and bric-a-brac in a living room have definitely not been put there to catch ashes and butts. If you cannot find an ash tray, you had better ask for one. Guests who carelessly put down their cigarettes and leave marks on mahogany tables or nonchalantly drop hole-eating sparks on a rug are not likely to become hostesses’ pets. Never go on a dance floor holding a cigarette. Don’t smoke in a ballroom at all if you have to choose between putting the ends on the floor or in your pockets.

The author goes on to say, “Trust yourself enough to refuse a cigarette or a drink in a crowd without embarrassment or apology. Only an ill-bred person will ever comment on your refusal in a way to make you feel conspicuous. Going against your standards and tastes to be like others is weak-kneed. It is not a prescription for building personality.”

I’ll go one step further . . . Forget about smoking altogether and save yourself a lot of trouble!