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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Chapter II. — Physical Effects of Tobacco

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Chapter II.

Physical Effects of Tobacco.

8.—One of the most important requisites of a noble, happy, and useful life is good health. "A sound mind in a sound body" is a precious talent to be cherished with all solicitude, not only as a condition essential to enjoyment, but as a means of extended usefulness to others. Bodily health has also an important bearing on the higher nature. We cannot, therefore, too anxiously guard the young from any influence or habit tending to blight the physical system. Let us examine then whether the facts justify juvenile indulgence in tobacco.

9.—(I) The direct action of a powerful dose of tobacco proves it to be a poison. The oil of tobacco, scraped from a foul pipe and applied to an external sore, has been known to cause death. A boy seven years old. Who had tobacco juice applied to his head for ring-worm, died in three hours and a half. Nausea; disturbance of the brain and nervous system; giddiness, followed by convulsive action of the muscles, extending in extreme cases to the heart and chest, and succeeded by a deathly faintness and terror, are the effects of a powerful dose. Dr. Richardson, F.R.S., mentions the case of a boy who, while "learning to smoke," induced in himself, from the first few pipes, these signs in a degree that was painful to witness. "His heart having nearly ceased to beat, his sensation of impending death was terrible, while through the chest, which was spasmodically fixed, there darted, whenever he attempted to breathe, a pain short and sharp as an electric shock. These spasmodic seizures lasted for many hours. Pushed to an extremity, the symptoms terminate in death from arrest in the beating of the heart."*

10.—(2) Immediate Death sometimes results from smoking. Dr. Richardson narrates the case of a young man. An inveterate smoker, who died after smoking, in one day, forty cigarettes and fourteen cigars. "I found him with his pupils widely dilated, his skin cold, clammy and perspiring, his speech faltering, and his mind uncertain. His pulse was soft, and full and feeble, his utterance difficult, and his lower limbs paralysed. He died from organic nervous paralysis, with accumulation of fluid in the bronchial passages." The writer was recently made acquainted with the case of a young page 8 man who, having taken a tobacco shop, and having much leisure, smoked inveterately for eighteen months, at the end of which time he died, at the age of twenty-three, completely paralysed in every limb, leaving a wife and infant child entirely unprovided for. In America it is not uncommon thing for coroners' inquests over young men to record a verdict of "died from excessive smoking."

11.—(3) Injury is caused by "moderate smoking." Those who indulge in a more guarded manner must not dream that they escape. They may enjoy apparent immunity for a time, but the day of reckoning will surely arrive. Even those who admit that excessive smoking is injurious, sometimes plead that moderate indulgence is not so. As well might it be urged that a moderate breathing of foul and poisonous gas is not hurtful. It is a great truth that "in the physical world there is no forgiveness of sins." Injury, sooner or later, follows all habitual indulgence in narcotics. A man, known to the writer, was a steady smoker for more than forty years. One day he was seized with a violent pain in the region of the heart, extreme difficulty of breathing, and all the symptoms of Angina Pectoris. He went to bed, took medicine, and gradually recovered. He suspected that tobacco was the cause. For two weeks he abstained, and had no return of the alarming symptoms. He then recommenced smoking, and had another attack as violent as before He now felt sure that the pipe was the cause, and at once resolved to abandon it. Two years have passed, and he has never had another attack, while his health and strength are marvellously improved. Before, he was very thin; had a pinched and anxious look, and a sallow complexion, and was nervous and feeble. He is now plump and fresh-coloured; has gained two stones in weight; his muscles are remarkably firm, and he has a fresh, joyous expression. This case, and multitudes of a similar kind, prove that in long-continued indulgence a morbid state of the vital organs is rendered permanent, so that a return to the habit, for ever so short a time, produces symptoms equal in their violence to those produced in constitutions un-used to the poison. In such cases, only entire abstinence can prevent a fatal issue. It is probable that many, lacking the knowledge or the moral power that was brought to bear in the case just given, persist in the practice till premature death closes the scene.

12.—(4) Smokers are liable to a great number of diseases. There are hereditary tendencies to disease which may lie latent through life, but which a noxious agent like tobacco may develope into fatal activity. Hence the infinite variety of diseases that can be traced to tobacco as their exciting cause. For example:— page 9
(a.)The Digestive Functions.—Smokers, snuff-takers, and chewers of tobacco are very commonly dyspeptic; and fatal diseases of the stomach and bowels are known to result from those practices. Imperfect digestion necessarily enfeebles the general health, and lessens the power of the system to throw off special disease.
(b.)The Brain and Nervous System.—On this point Dr. Conquest says, "As a medical man, I have no hesitation in affirming my conviction, based on large and extensive observation, that the use of snuff and tobacco must be classed with the worst evils existing in society. I doubt if, under any circumstances, the human constitution is benefitted by their employment; and language would fail me were I to attempt to detail the bodily and mental diseases they produce. In my now lengthened medical life I have often seen the worst and most intractable forms of indigestion, and the most distressing and fatal cases of stomach and liver disease, traceable to snuff and tobacco, and I am confident this poisonous weed produces every variety and degree of nervous derangement, from depression of spirits, to palsy, apoplexy, and insanity." Dr. Jolly, a distinguished French physician, has shown that an intimate relation subsists between the increase in the consumption of tobacco, and that of insanity. It is also certain that snuff keeps up an irritability of the brain and nervous system, and in some cases produces violent forms of maniacal phrenzy.
(c.)General Paralysis is one of the most common and marked effects of tobacco. Professor Lefebre, of Loviano, has arrived at the following conclusions, as reported in the "Bulletin Gener de Therap.":—(1) That nicotine determines in the animal the progressive abolition of movement, resembling paralysis; perturbation of the senses; and, finally, sanguineous congestion; sometimes accompanied by hemorrhages of the nervous centres of the members, and at other times giving rise to inflammation of the brain substance, and disorganization of the nervous cells. (2) That analogous phenomena are observed, that is to say, impairment of intellectual energy in persons submitted for the first time to the action of tobacco, and in certain numbers of those abusing the pipe and cigar. (3) That there has been found a constant relation between the augmentation of the consumption of tobacco and the increased number of cases of general paralysis. M. Bouisson, in words that ought to page 10 arrest the attention of legislators, ministers, and leaders of thought, thus points out the depraved tendencies or multitudes in all classes in the present day:—"Our society seeks ardently for the exciters of intoxication and narcotism, without seeing that it is descending in another fashion to the manners which it reproaches in Eastern nations. Strong drink (especially absinthe), tobacco, venereal excesses, alter and render morbid the nervous actions, and generate nervous diseases, in continually increasing proportions; and especially that general paralysis which makes so many victims at the present day."
(d.)The Respiratory Organs are also influenced most injuriously by tobacco. Some writers maintain that tobacco is a direct cause of tubercular consumption. This is doubted by others, but all agree that where the disease exists, smoking greatly aggravates and confirms the evil, and so long as the practice is continued, renders cure impossible. This effect is produced indirectly by the impaired nutrition resulting from derangement in the process of digestion, and partly from the irritating effect of tobacco on the respiratory organs themselves. When it is considered that pulmonary consumption is one of the most fatal forms of disease, carrying off about one-fourth of all the victims of disease in this climate, its aggravation by an unworthy indulgence like smoking cannot be too deeply regretted.
(e.)Cancer. Where a tendency to cancer exists, tobacco, no doubt, aggravates the evil; but, further, it is certain that the form of cancer known as "epithelioma," which attacks the mucous membrane lining the mouth, and the internal organs, is directly and frequently caused by smoking, and also by chewing, and in the nose itself by snuff-taking. M. Bouisson gives particulars of seventy-two cases of smoker's cancer which he had seen in fourteen years. The lower lip, the upper lip, the junction between the two, the gums, and cheeks, and tongue, are parts chiefly affected by this painful disease, when occasioned by indulgence in tobacco. The details of the sufferings of patients who have died from this disease are horrible in the extreme.
(f.)The Teeth, Gums, and Throat are injuriously affected by tobacco. Enlargement of the tonsils, and "smoker's sore throat," are almost invariably present. Dr. Richardson says, "I have known it affect a public singer very seriously, producing a page 11 hoarseness and a want of firmness most annoying and painful. I have also known it keep up for a long time a persistent, irritative cough." Ministers and other public speakers, if they wish to preserve the voice unimpaired to the latest possible period, should scrupulously shun tobacco. Snuff also operates most injuriously on the tonsils and the organs of speech.
(g.)Tobacco causes partial Paralysis of the Nerves of Sensation. No one whose system is perpetually dosed with it can smell or taste, or hear or see, as delicately as he ought to do. In many instances, indeed, one or other of the faculties of sense is totally destroyed. On this subject Dr. Drysdale remarks as follows:—"The influence of tobacco on the eyesight is now well known. .One of the symptoms produced in acute poisoning by tobacco is blindness; and chronic poisoning gives rise to similar symptoms. Mackenzie, of Glasgow, first noticed that male patients affected with one species of amaurosis were mostly great lovers of tobacco in some form. Sichel, of Paris, found some cases of blindness easily cured by cessation from tobacco. Hutchinson narrated, before the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, thirty-seven cases of a species of amaurosis, where twenty-three of the patients were great smokers; and Wordsworth has confirmed these views of Mackenzie and Hutchinson. "In one week, I saw (in 1874) at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, two cases of tobacco amaurosis in young men, neither of whom had attained the age of thirty. The first had chewed continually; and the second had smoked the enormous quantity of one ounce of shag tobacco daily. Both were completely and irretrievably blind from this dangerous habit." But weak sight is also commonly caused by snuffing as well as by smoking and chewing. Tobacco amaurosis is now much more common than it used to be. Mr. Couper, of the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, says that patients with tobacco amaurosis describe themselves as always living in a dim light, even at noon-day. Mr. George Critchett, the great London authority on diseases of the eye, states that he is constantly consulted by gentlemen for 'commencing blindness' caused solely by smoking, which he condemns, therefore, in unqualified terms, as most dangerous to human health. Dr. Richardson confirms these statements, and mentions, as effects of tobacco, "dilatation of the pupils of the eye, confusion of vision, bright lines, luminous or cobweb specks, and long retention of images on the retina."
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13.—But if the habitual use of tobacco be absurd when viewed philosophically, it also involves the most serious consequences to the nation, physically, morally, and politically. Dr. Richardson tells us that the effects of this indulgence are hereditary—that the offspring of smokers are both physically and mentally degenerate—that tobacco is "stunting the national growth, deforming the national life, degrading the national intellect, and establishing a race which must necessarily possess a limited force, and transmit its own degradation to the next and the next generation."

14.—The following is from a recent Manchester paper:—"Some remarkable evidence relating to the physical condition of the factory population was laid before the Factories and Workshops Commissioners by Dr. Ferguson, a certifying surgeon in the Bolton district. He affirmed, as the result of fourteen years' observation as a certifying surgeon, that the factory population is degenerating. Since the end of last year he had passed children who, in his judgment, were unfit to work full time, although not incapacitated by disease or infirmity. He had taken note of their condition, and on meeting with the same children some three or six months afterwards he found that in many instances they had not increased in weight a single ounce. In others there had been a decrease of weight, showing conclusively that their physical powers were being over-taxed. The result was, that their growth was stunted, their strength impaired, and their life probably shortened. During the five years ending 1873 quite one-half of the children who came before him were physically unfit to work full time, and the numbers increased year by year. Dr. Ferguson does not ascribe these results to factory labour itself, but discovers one cause in the intemperate habits of the workers, who, debilitated by excessive smoking and drinking, transmit their own feebleness to their children. Other causes of degeneration are the modern practice of feeding children on tea or coffee, instead of milk, and the habit, which he says has been contracted by at least half the boys in factories between the ages of twelve and twenty, of smoking or chewing tobacco."

15.—Indoor employments, bad food, and crowded dwellings, are given as causes of degeneracy of race. Dr. Rumsey, who read a paper on the subject at the Social Science Congress at Leeds, in 1871, mentions these causes, and gives due prominence to intoxicating liquor—but he makes no mention of tobacco. He quotes from Dr. Morgan the following description of large numbers of the population of Manchester:—"Their weak, excitable, irregular, and rapid circulations, cold extremities, blanched lips, bloodless cheeks, indicated to Dr. Morgan the impoverished state of their blood. Their page 13 liability to neuralgia, and involuntary convulsive movements, showed an enfeebled nervous system. In others, again, the teeth are no sooner developed than they begin to decay, enlarged glands protrude from the neck, the skin looks dry and parched, the hair scanty and withered."

16.—It would be impossible to give a more graphic picture than the above of the victim of tobacco, even making due allowance for other deteriorating influences. The money worse than wasted in narcotics, if spent upon better food, better clothing, and better dwellings, would soon counteract those noxious agencies to which it is fashionable to attribute the evils in question. But so long as this morbid craving continues, so long will it be impossible to raise the people out of that squalid and unwholesome poverty in which so many are plunged. The nation may well tremble for its safety, when the muscles and sinews, and brain power, on which its wealth and its efficiency depend, are systematically trifled with in the pursuit of depraving indulgences.

* "Diseases of Modern Life."