Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/September 1892/Tobacco and the Tobacco Habit
|TOBACCO AND THE TOBACCO HABIT.|
OF THE FRENCH ACADEMY OF MEDICINE.
THE use of tobacco prevails throughout the whole world. Smokers alone are numbered by hundreds of millions. A million and a quarter acres of the earth are devoted to the cultivation of the plant, and the taxes on it alone in France amount to three hundred million francs (or sixty million dollars). A custom so general, a habit that has been maintained so long in the face of constant attacks upon it, should be considered seriously. It should be studied from every side, and the various elements of the question should be subjected to a complete analysis by the means of investigation now at our disposal, for it is a scientific problem of the first order. While it is of moral and philosophical interest, and its social con sequences are within the province of economists, it is for science, physiology, and hygiene to furnish experimental data as the basis for their deductions.
A proper study of the subject should be made with an independence of prepossession which it is not easy to find. Persons who have never smoked will talk of tobacco as the blind talk of colors; smokers have a fondness for their habit, while those who have been obliged to give it up are prejudiced on the other side. I am one of the reformed smokers. After having abused tobacco for about fifty years, I was compelled to abjure it. I fought my ground inch by inch, and yielded only to an absolute necessity. Knowing what the reformation cost me, I have not tried to make proselytes; but I intend to say what I believe is true upon a question which I have studied well, and on which I am not lacking in personal experience.
The tobacco plant belongs to the order Solanaceæ, and constitutes a genus (Nicotiana) named after Jean Nicot. It is cultivated through the whole world, and succeeds equally in the temperate zone and the intertropical regions. Two species are cultivated: common or large tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and small tobacco (Nicotiana rustica). The first species is the most widely diffused. It is a large and fine-looking annual plant, growing to a height of about six feet. It bears large alternate leaves of a glaucous-green color, and is tipped with a cluster of elegant flowers having a pale-rose corolla and a persistent five-parted calyx. Small tobacco does not exceed twenty inches or two feet in height. Its leaves are thick, soft, dark-green, and viscously hairy. The terminal inflorescence comprises clusters of flowers composed of cymes. The pale-yellow corolla, a little greenish, is supported by a campanulate calyx, covered with glandular hairs and terminating in uneven teeth. The genus Nicotiana includes some fifty other species, mostly natives of America, but some of Australia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Of these, some fifteen or twenty species are cultivated and give rise to different foreign tobaccoes, the taste and properties of which are varied. A few species, remarkable for the richness of their colors and their graceful growth, are cultivated as ornamental plants in gardens.
Tobacco leaves contain principles common to all vegetable substances—such as starch, cellulose, sugar, organic acids, and salts principles soluble in ether, nitrogenous substances, and a peculiar alkaloid to which the plant owes its special qualities, called nicotine. This alkaloid, discovered by Posselt and Remann, was isolated by Vauquelin in 1809. It is an oily liquid, transparent and colorless, which becomes brown and thick in the air by absorbing oxygen. Its acrid and virulent odor is like that of tobacco; it has a burning taste, and its vapor is so irritating that breathing is painful in a room where a drop of it has fallen. It is very hygrometric, and soluble in water, alcohol, and ether. It combines directly with acids, with the evolution of heat. It is found as a malate in the leaves. The different kinds of tobacco do not contain the same quantities of it. The black, unctuous tobacco of the Antilles, the pronounced savor, ready burning, and white ash of which make it in demand among experienced smokers, contains much more nicotine than the light, fragrant tobacco of the Levant. The quantity of it increases with the development of the plant, and varies according to the thickness of the leaves. The thinner-leaved plants contain less of it. The fermentation to which tobacco is subjected in manufacturing volatilizes a part of the nicotine and substitutes ammonia for it. Consequently, there is less nicotine in tobacco prepared for consumption than there was in the dry leaves before the preparation. Combustion destroys about three quarters of this. According to M. Pabst, the smoke of five grammes of tobacco yields about three milligrammes of nicotine; but it contains a number of other principles besides, the enumeration of which here would not be interesting. Nicotine is the active principle of tobacco, as atropine is of belladonna and morphine of opium; but there are other poisons among the substances united with it. The less volatile ones condense during combustion, and produce a brownish empyreumatic liquid, a kind of coal-tar of tobacco, a part of which oozes through porous pipes, and the whole of which is retained in the water of nargilehs.
Among the volatile principles that pass into the smoke along with nicotine are hydrocyanic acid and carbonic oxide. Dr. Grehant has shown that a notable quantity of them is absorbed by rapid smokers swallowing the smoke, and the gas passes into the stream of the circulation. These facts are of considerable importance in view of practical consequences, and go far to explain the accidents that sometimes occur after one has passed several hours in a medium saturated with tobacco, even without smoking, and the phenomena of intoxication which are produced by eating food that has remained for a long time in a similar atmosphere.
Tobacco is a poison, as are most of the Solanaceæ and many plants which medicine daily utilizes. Its properties have been studied in our time with all the rigor of the experimental method, verified by clinical observation. We can no more than present the principal results of the investigation here. The decoction of tobacco destroys animal life in a time short in proportion to the strength of the dose. The phenomena preceding death are like those produced by other toxic alkaloids, and are identical with those exhibited by man in a similar condition, which doctors have had too frequent occasion to observe. Sometimes convicts or sailors swallow their quids, or fools drink on a wager a glass or two of the empyreumatic juice that flows from old pipes, or the poison is swallowed by mistake, as when snuff is taken for coffee or tobacco leaves are mixed with orange leaves. Cases of malicious poisoning are more rare; but the poet Sauteuil died, according to Merat, in horrible suffering after having drunk a glass of wine in which Spanish tobacco leaves had been put. Mortal poisoning is, however, rarely brought about when tobacco is taken by the mouth, for it is nearly always rejected by vomiting before it can produce its worst effects; but the results of intestinal administration are different. The intoxication is then most usually the result of a medical error. The decoction of tobacco is still given sometimes as an injection in cases of asphyxia by submersion or of strangled hernia, and, if the dose is too large, death may result. Orfila cites four cases that were fatal in doses ranging from eight to sixty-four grammes. One patient died in fifteen minutes, and the one who held out longest at the end of two hours. Eight grammes do not form a toxic dose, but the case cited by Orfila was one of an infant. From fifteen to thirty grammes are required to kill an adult. Tobacco may also poison through the lungs. Cases are mentioned of persons who died from sleeping in a room filled with fermenting leaves; others, worthy rivals of the bettors just now spoken of, died after executing wagers that they could smoke an improbable number of pipes without intermission. The skin itself may serve as a channel for the introduction of the toxic principle. Accidents of this kind were not rare when diseases of the skin were treated with pomades or liniments of which tobacco was the base. Murray reports an observation of three infants who were taken with vomitings and vertigos, and died in convulsions within twenty-four hours after having their heads rubbed with a tobacco ointment. Cases are recorded of smugglers who died after having covered the bare skin of their whole body with tobacco leaves which they were trying to introduce fraudulently. Ferdinand Martin has related the case of a lady afflicted with lumbago who applied flannels dipped in a decoction of smoking tobacco to the ailing part. Her pains were promptly subdued, but she soon felt all the phenomena of intoxication by nicotine, and did not recover from it for three days. Poisoning by tobacco generally occurs by accident or mistake. It is rarely tried criminally, probably because the toxic properties of the drug are not reliable enough. Assassins prefer the alkaloid itself, the effects of which are much more prompt and more terrible than those of the plant. By whatever method it is administered in experiments, the animal is slain. Two drops are enough to kill a large dog; eight drops will kill a horse in four minutes. Under its effects he rages, prances, writhes, falls down, and dies in convulsions. "This alkaloid," says Claude Bernard, "is one of the most virulent poisons known, and a few drops of it on the cornea of an animal will kill it instantly. Nicotine, apparently sympathetic in its effects, in its action is very much like prussic acid." The action of this principle is so subtle that it can not be analyzed unless the drug is administered in minute doses and very dilute solutions. There is then observed the phenomenon—which goes far to explain the facility with which one is habituated to the use of tobacco—of the rapid development of tolerance of gradually increasing doses. This has been demonstrated by Traube, who, with the twenty-fourth of a drop of nicotine subcutaneously injected, obtained very marked effects on the first day. The next day, on the same animal, it took a whole drop to reach the same result, and at the end of four days five drops were necessary. A similar tolerance is observed in man for hypodermic injections of morphine; but one does not get accustomed to digitaline or strychnine.
When nicotine is administered in doses weak enough to permit an analysis of its effects, almost the same phenomena are witnessed as with the whole plant. In the cases of poisoning already mentioned, there came on at the beginning extreme anguish and agitation, with sensations of burning heat in the pit of the stomach. Respiration was accelerated and the pulse was slackened; then came vomiting and purging, vertigo, and faintness. The face grew pale, the skin was covered with a cold sweat, the head was confused, and the patient fell into a deep stupor, with cries, general trembling, and convulsions. This agitation gives place to paralysis and insensibility; respiration is impeded, the pulse declines to a mere thread, and the patient dies in syncope.
When the patient resists the attack, as is most frequently the case, the evolution of the symptoms described above is arrested, and the sufferer comes out of his comatose condition with a violent headache, extreme weakness, and a gastric disturbance which it requires a considerable time to allay.
The effects produced by the habitual use of tobacco differ according to the way it is consumed. They have not been much observed except among smokers, who are most noticed because of their number. Then their habit is open; the smoke goes everywhere, and it causes inconvenience to others; while the more discreet snuff-taker can hide his snuff-box, and annoys with the smell of tobacco only those who come too near him.
Beginners at snuff-taking require, like smokers, an apprenticeship. They begin by sneezing; then the mucous membrane of the nasal fossæ becomes accustomed to the drug, is palled, and even finds itself pleasantly tickled by the ammoniacal piquancy and nicotian perfume of the virulent powder. At last it becomes thick, and with intemperate snuff-takers perceives odors only feebly. It becomes sometimes the seat of a chronic inflammation which extends to the pharynx and produces a slight dry and characteristic cough. Snuff-takers are told of who have suffered from eruptions, ulcerations, and polypi; others have become deaf; but such cases are so rare and their etiology is so doubtful that serious account need not be taken of them.
The only phenomenon peculiar to nicotine often observed among snuff-takers is a rhythmic trembling of the hands, not like that of old men or that of drunkards, but which is observed likewise in excessive smokers. A single case is mentioned by Dr. Bean of angina pectoris in a patient who was addicted to an excessive use of snuff. But a solitary case is not important in the consideration of a habit so general, and there is no need of pursuing a fugitive enemy. Snuff-taking is condemned by fashion, from whose decrees there is no appeal. Those of hygiene are not so imperative.
Smoking is charged by its opponents with injuring the health and debasing the mind. The former part of the charge has a measure of foundation. There is certainly nothing hygienic in the habit. All are acquainted with the troubles that ensue on the first effort to smoke. There are nauseas, soon followed by vomiting, headache, vertigo, and a condition resembling sea-sickness, and much like the earlier phenomena of acute poisoning by tobacco. These troubles soon pass away, and after a few succeeding efforts the smoker accustoms himself to the action of the smoke. When the habit is once acquired, smokers feel no further inconvenience; and there are some who are able to smoke just before sitting down at the table. Smoking generally dulls the appetite and gives relief against the pains of hunger. But after eating the desire to smoke becomes irresistible. This is the psychological moment; and the pleasure we feel then is more intense than at any other time in the day. The pipe or the cigar is a condition of good digestion for some smokers, but in others it produces gastric troubles. Nervous people, those who lead a too sedentary life, and office men, especially if they have the habit of smoking before meals, gradually lose their appetite, and acquire instead of it a painful anxiety and nausea. Others suffer from pyrosis. There are smokers who can not light a cigar at some hours in the day without having the feeling of hot iron that marks that affection. Nearly all excessive smokers are dyspeptics; and the fact is explained by the excess of salivation and the diminution of the gastric juice and of the functional energy of the stomach. Next after the digestive troubles, the most common affections touch the respiratory organs and the heart. Granular pharyngitis is very common among persons who smoke to excess. The irritation of the pharynx is often communicated to the larynx, and there results a peculiar dry cough. Others feel a temporary oppression in the evening after having smoked during the day. A special form of asthma has been mentioned as caused by the abuse of tobacco; but cases of it must be very rare, for I have never observed it, though I have passed my life among smokers. Affections of the heart are more frequent. Some doctors assert that one fourth of the smokers are afflicted with palpitations and irregularities of the pulse. I do not know where such observations have been made, but I have never seen any cases of the kind. I, as well as other doctors, have met cases of angina pectoris, chiefly among persons who passed their lives in an atmosphere saturated with tobacco, and among those who have swallowed the smoke of their cigars, and have not been surprised at them, because the smoke then enters into the lesser ramifications of the bronchial vessels, where it impresses directly the finest nervous threads of the lungs and the heart, and its action induces the spasms of suffocation that constitute that terrible disease. These symptoms are at first fleeting, and rarely mortal; but, if the patient does not abandon his habit, they occur more frequently, and become more grave till death ensues in one of them. Disasters from breathing an atmosphere saturated with tobacco-smoke seem more liable to occur with children than with grown persons. Staying in smoking-rooms, where the smoke is sometimes so thick that one can hardly see from one end of the room to the other, is dangerous to persons subject to palpitations, even though they do not smoke. Dr. Vallin has cited three facts conclusive as to this point, one of which relates to the case of a young officer who had given up tobacco three months before, and was attacked with a suffocation like angina pectoris after having passed several nights in his room where his friends came to smoke for some hours every evening. Dr. Gélineau tells of an epidemic of angina pectoris among some sailors who were crowded in the between-decks of a merchant vessel during a storm that made it necessary to close all the hatches, and who smoked to pass away the time. Those who did not join in the smoking suffered equally with the others, for they breathed the same toxic atmosphere.
Pipe-smokers are in danger of epithelioma, or cancer of the lips and of the tongue. The former occurs chiefly among persons who smoke a very short-stemmed clay pipe. Smokers' cancer appears usually at the point where the hot pipe-stem bears upon the lower lip, and on the side of the tongue at the point where the smoke touches at each aspiration. In some cases it begins with buccal psoriasis, a kind of thickening of the epithelium of the tongue, which becomes white, glossy, and horny. These two forms of a horrible malady are incontestably the most serious danger smokers incur; and the fear of it is the motive that has impelled the majority of conversions from the habit. The frequency of them should not, however, be exaggerated.
Tobacco has been accused of contributing to the depopulation of the country by enfeebling the reproductive powers of men and inducing miscarriages in women. The former part of the charge is founded on the very real fact that the smoking of tobacco, while its influence prevails, appeases all ardor; but its action is essentially temporary, and does not detract from the general powers of smokers. Their families are as numerous as those of other persons, and the peoples who smoke most are precisely those who have the most children. The Germans smoke twice as much as the French, and have five times as many children. The possibility of tobacco promoting abortions is more open to discussion, but it can not exert any noticeable influence on the movement of population, for it concerns only a very limited class of women those who work in tobacco-factories. These establishments have borne a bad reputation in the past, and the effect of life in them upon the operatives has been painted in very dark colors. All manufactories were until recently in a deplorable hygienic condition. Now the rooms are spacious and well ventilated, and all precautions are taken to preserve the health of the operatives.
But, whatever may be done, the vapors of nicotine can not be got rid of in the shops where large quantities of tobacco are dried and fermented, or where it is stored in bales and casks. When the leaves are cleaned and mixed, in rasping and grinding, dust as active as the vapors is diffused around. Operatives who work in this atmosphere are in the situation of smokers, and become habituated to it after having suffered the same disorders in the beginning. Those who work in smaller and insufficiently ventilated rooms are often more seriously affected; but, as a rule, these workmen enjoy good health. Opinions as to the particular effect of this employment on women differ; but the prevalent result of the discussion appears to be that tobacco does not provoke abortion, and has no mischievous influence' on the health of women operatives. Abortion is not more frequent among them than among other working-women; and the weakness and mortality of their children are easily explained by the fact of their being left at home while their mothers are at the shop.
Among the maladies to which hardened smokers are exposed is nicotinic amblyopia, which Sichel noticed first, and which has been well studied by modern ophthalmologists. It is a peculiar weakening of the sight, and is distinguished from other affections of the kind by the readiness with which it passes away when the patient gives up tobacco, and the promptitude with which it appears again when he resumes the practice. It is very rare. So is a paralysis which has been observed in Germany. Delirium tremens, convulsions, epilepsy, hallucinations, dementia, precocious senility, and melancholia have been mentioned as among the evils brought on by tobacco. No doubt smokers have them, and many other diseases. Tobacco will not save them from any of the ills with which mankind is afflicted.
Of all the accusations that have been made against tobacco, that of blunting the intellect is the most cruel to smokers. But the evidence in favor of it is not formidable. That most frequently encountered is obtained from statistics that show that in institutions for public instruction smokers stand lower in their classes than other pupils. Decaisne has shown this for the French lycees; MM. Bartillon, G. Doré, and Élie Joubert, for the pupils of the Polytechnic School; and Dr. Coustan, for the Normal and Naval Schools and the School of Bridges and Roads. The demonstration is hardly satisfactory. It seems reasonable to assume that the smoking pupils do not succeed so well as the others because they are idle and find in tobacco an auxiliary to their indolence and a relief from its consequent ennui. Probably, if the investigation had been pushed further, it would have been found that the same pupils are those whose general conduct leaves most to be desired, and who are most frequently punished. Discussion of this charge brings up an international comparison that is not favorable to its validity. There is a people north of the Rhine, whom I have already mentioned, and with whom the use of tobacco has almost become an institution. They consume a half more than we (the French), and yet we have to admit that these Germans are not as dull as they should be by the theory, that they do not cut a bad figure in the scientific world, and that they hold a preponderant position in Europe. A more specious argument than this is one which the detractors of tobacco draw from the enfeeblement of memory which many observers pretend to have remarked. This would be a serious matter if the charge was sustained; but it does not appear to me proved. Instances have been related in good faith, it is true, of persons who are supposed to have lost their memories through the use of tobacco; but my impression is, that the loss can be more properly attributed to advancing age.
I have no thought of writing an apology for tobacco, or of asking for the erection of a statue of Jean Nicot. Smoking is a bad habit for everybody, especially for women and children. But because tobacco is a grand culprit is a reason why it should not be painted blacker than it is. If we exaggerate its faults and attribute imaginary ones to it, we run the risk of wholly missing our aim. In fact, children whom we are trying to preserve from it, when they see smokers around them able-bodied and sparkling with wit, are disposed to think we are deceiving them when we hold up this bugbear before them, and will come to not believing the real evils of the bad habit against which we are trying to fortify them.
Last to be considered is the philosophical side of the question: What is the motive that impels so many persons to contract an inconvenient, expensive, and unhealthy habit? The problem is insoluble to persons who do not smoke. "I can never comprehend," lately said a professor of hygiene, "the enjoyment one can feel in converting his mouth into a chimney-flue." Dupuytren called the habit of smoking the ignoble pleasure of poisoning one's self and others. This is not surprising; but it is more so that smokers themselves can not account for the fact. The general opinion is, that we begin to smoke to imitate others, and continue it by habit, as a distraction, or means of dispelling ennui. "The boy of fourteen or fifteen years, beginning to smoke," says M. Dumas, "does not seek a cerebral excitement in the new habit any more than one who is beginning to drink. He simply imitates the bearded persons whom he sees with the pipe or cigar in their mouths. It is to him one of the signs of the virility to which he aspires. It is the easiest way for him to make himself believe that he is already a man, and to make the public believe it." This is true, but few smokers can find any traces of this feeling in their recollections; but while the desire of affirming one's virility and doing like others may explain the first essays in the face of the pains that attend them, it does not account for the irresistible attraction of the habit once formed and the readiness with which it establishes itself. The customs and tastes of populations and the fashions change and give place to others that disappear in their turn, after having inspired the same infatuation in us; but the habit of smoking goes on increasing, over all obstacles. The earliest adepts of the practice braved anathemas and persecutions, and some of them punishments. The smokers of to-day do not have to make the same struggles, but many of them endure troubles that compromise their health rather than abandon the practice, and among these are men of energy and intelligence, whatever else may be said of them.
There must, therefore, be in this passion something besides the satisfaction of a mechanical habit. "The particular intoxication caused by tobacco," says M. Dumas, "must have irresistible attractions for an intoxicant of so recent discovery, the initiation into which is so painful, to have overtaken wine, old as the world." The charm of tobacco-intoxication is not easy to explain. It is in the soothing, says M. Fay; it is an anaesthesia that has become necessary, says M. Richet; it is a state of torpor which conduces to revelry, say others. Tolstoi maintains that it is nothing of this kind, but the desire to stifle the voice of conscience; and, confounding tobacco with alcohol and opium, the Russian romancist envelops them both in the same anathema. In explanation of his view he has recourse to a theory known in physiology as that of duality, or human dynamism. During his conscious life, Tolstoi says, man has frequent occasion to recognize in himself two distinct beings: one blind and sensitive, the other enlightened and thinking. The former eats, drinks, rests, sleeps, reproduces, and moves, like a machine wound up for a certain time. The other, the thinking and enlightened, united with the sensitive one, does not act by itself, but only controls and appraises the conduct of the former one, helping it effectively if it approves, and remaining neutral in the contrary case. This spiritual but powerless being plays in human psychology the part of the compass of the ship, of which the other being is the helmsman. The last can follow the directions of the magnetic needle, or he can pay no attention to them; he is even able, when its warnings annoy him, to disarrange his compass. Weak and timorous persons have recourse to the last expedient. They stifle their conscience, and, in order to do so, use alcohol or tobacco.
Count Tolstoi's theory can not be sustained. It has one particularly weak point in the similarity which the author assumes between the effects of tobacco and of alcohol. Not one of the personages whom the translator of his work consulted protested against this confusion, and still it is false and deceitful. The Russian's paradox may be applied, to a certain extent, to drunkenness. We do sometimes get drunk to forget, to stupefy ourselves, and it is a detestable means. Rogues and criminals all do it; they drink often to give themselves heart, murderers especially; while there is not a case known, as M. Aurelian Schole has observed, of a crime committed with pipe or cigar in the mouth. The author himself confesses that he dulled his conscience with tobacco for a long time. It had not, it is true, many reproaches to address to him. Sometimes it reproved him for idleness, or admonished him for a neglect, or a want of punctuality, or an excess of passion in which he had not measured his tone. To quench his remorse he lighted a cigar, and all was forgotten. If tobacco had never committed worse misdeeds, nobody, I believe, would have thought of quarreling with it.
Other modes of voluntary intoxication have the common characteristic of deranging the reason and the moral sense. Hashish produces hallucinations and delirium, and plunges persons into a condition like madness. Opium puts to sleep, and procures for some persons agreeable dreams; but one becomes quickly habituated to it, the doses have to be increased, all the functions flag, and the opium-smoker falls into a condition of inanity, at times interrupted by fits of homicidal furor. Morphinomaniacs do not suffer the same perversion of mind, but they become false, dissimulating, indifferent to all that is foreign to their passion, extending to family feeling and even to honor. Their health is injured more quickly than by opium-smoking, and their life is shortened as much. Alcoholism is still worse. I have studied its effects in all their phases in another work, and will not repeat my conclusions now. It is sufficient to recollect that the ignoble and degrading vice attacks nations in all their vital forces; families in their honor, fortune, and prosperity; that it peoples hospitals, insane asylums, and prisons; and costs France a milliard and a half of francs a year.
Tobacco can be reproached with no such mischief. It has never led the reason astray, destroyed the will, or perverted the sensibility of any one. The most hardened smoker enjoys at all times the most perfect clearness of mind. Even at the moment when he is under the influence of nicotine he talks, reasons, studies, and works with a freedom of thought that proves that his intelligence has not received any harm. One might say that tobacco had disengaged him from physical impressions, and that, as Dr. Richet says, it mollifies the sensibility of the organs only to leave the psychical functions greater freedom of evolution.
There is another characteristic difference between tobacco and other voluntary poisons. A person can break up the habit of using tobacco, while alcoholism and morphinomania are almost incurable. At the end of my long career I can not recollect having witnessed more than two or three cures from alcoholism, and I can not affirm that they would have been permanent if the subjects had been exposed to new temptations. Morphinomaniacs are absolutely incurable unless they are interned. Smokers, on the other hand, can correct themselves when they wish to. They only need a firm will. We see persons every day who have done this; and since the troubles caused by tobacco have been more definitely known we see many men giving it up of their own accord as they advance in age. The habit is so completely lost that after a few years the reformed victim can find himself in a company of smokers without feeling a desire to imitate them; and if he is moved to light a cigar he will not find the pleasure of the old days in it.
I might stop here; but I will not finish this article without giving my own explanation of the fascination of tobacco. It is probably no better than the others, and I will not try to impose it on any one.
Men have at all times eagerly sought for substances that would act on their nervous system. The tendency is general, and is exclusively human. To escape real life and the drudgery of daily occupations, to live in dream-land, in an ideal world which the imagination can people at its will, and can embellish with its illusions, have irresistible charms to some minds. In obedience to this dangerous seduction they involuntarily seek the dreams of opium and hashish, the intoxication of ether and chloral, or the grosser drunkenness of alcohol. The weak yield unresistingly to their inclination, and pass into the degrading excesses which I have reviewed. Tobacco offers no such seductions and is attended with no such dangers. Its action on the nervous system is weak and wholly special. It does not put to sleep, but it calms and mollifies the sensibility of the organs. It causes an agreeable torpor, during which thought continues lucid, and the capacity for work is not diminished. Such is the attraction it exercises, and which causes it to be sought for by so many thinkers and students. Tobacco is to them a help in mental labor. When fatigue begins and the need of a moment's rest is felt; when the thought fails to present itself with the usual exactness, and the mind hesitates over the shape to give it, the student, writer, or investigator stops, lights his pipe, and soon, by favor of this pleasant narcotic, the thought appears clear and limpid through the bluish cloud in which the smoker has enveloped himself.
I should make a wrong impression if I left it to be believed that I thought tobacco necessary to mental labor. It becomes so only for those who have contracted the habit of using it, and they can divorce themselves from it without losing their capacity. As a whole, tobacco is harmless to the mind, but it may have a mischievous influence on the health, and may cause serious diseases. We should not advise any one to use it, and should try to keep women and children from doing so. In taking up this part of its programme, and in affiliating itself with teachers of all grades, the Society against the Abuse of Tobacco has performed real service; but it has tried to gain its end by exaggerations that can only compromise it. It is of no use, and would be labor lost, to try to convert adult smokers so long as they experience no inconvenience from the habit. As soon as they begin to feel some troubles, and have reached an age when the troubles may become grave, the dangers to which they are exposing themselves should be described to them without extenuating them, but without making the picture blacker. If dangerous affections are threatened, like angina pectoris, or injuries to the tongue and lips, a decisive course must be taken, and the immediate and complete abandonment of the cigarette and pipe insisted upon, for experience has taught that there can be no gradual leaving off.—Translated for The Popular Science Monthly from the Revue des Deux Mondes.
- Leçons sur les effets des substances toxiques et médicamenteuses. Paris, 1857, p. 397.
- The translator of this article was an inveterate smoker till the summer of 1868. One evening he said to himself that he would not smoke that evening. That is all the resolution he ever took; but he has never smoked or desired to smoke since.