[Headlines Only] [Top Stories Only]
· Health/Science
· History
· Class/Income Levels
non-USA, by Country
· UK

Smoking may seriously affect your skeleton [FREE FULL TEXT] 

The Lancet, Volume 379, Issue 9818, Pages 796 - 797, 3 March 2012
Jump to full article: The Lancet, 2012-03-03
Author: examining the marks of activity and health left behind on


The harmful effects of smoking are now well understood, but an association between poor health and smoking was also recognised in the 19th century. As the historian Matthew Hilton has documented, physicians were concerned with the effects of tobacco consumption: John Lizars published his Practical Observations on the Use and Abuse of Tobacco in 1854 and “The great tobacco question: is smoking injurious to health?” was debated in the pages of this journal in 1857. Partly a by-product of the temperance movement, anti-tobacco groups, such as the Anti-Tobacco Society which was set up in 1853, may have sought to denigrate the working classes and migrant communities. Writing in The Times in 1860, one correspondent remarked how “A large proportion of habitual smokers are rendered Lazy and Listless, indisposed to bodily and incapable of much mental exertion”. However, as the habit became more popular, the restrictions on its use diminished. Towards the latter half of the 19th century, smoking was first tolerated in public railway carriages; it took a further 20 years for smoking to be accepted in the capital's clubs. More than 100 years later the position was reversed, with smoking banned in many public places in Britain.

For the population of St Mary and St Michael, the concerns of the anti-tobacco groups may have seemed trivial when compared to the trials of everyday poverty. Reduced life expectancy, high infant mortality, and high rates of childhood illnesses, such as rickets, infectious disease, and risk of serious injury though trauma, were all apparent in the archaeological evidence. Smoking might, therefore, have offered a small luxury for the labouring classes, a brief escape from the daily hardships of life. . . .

The potential benefits of the study of past populations such as this fascinating group of individuals from St Mary and St Michael can bring much to our understanding of health today. Studies of more recent populations have often revealed a link between smoking and poorer backgrounds. Similar patterns may have occurred in London during the 19th century. The presence of pipe notches and dental staining might provide an indication of social status, thereby increasing the potential of archaeological samples and enabling us to examine aspects of health and disease from a socioeconomic perspective. Evidence of this habit as determined from examination of skeletal remains may aid in the identification of the social position of a population.

Jump to full article »