It's Bad For You!
May 5, 2004 8:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to write an essay on the current nostalgia for guilt-free (and information-free!) smoking, boozing and drug-taking and desperately need sources, whether web-based or bibliographical. [More inside.]

For example, from 1933 to 1953 The Journal of the American Medical Association regularly carried cigarette advertisements and web sites like this one have several examples of smoking advertised as a health solution rather than a problem.

Does anyone know of 20th Century sources for recklessly irresponsible advocacies of drinking, smoking and experimenting with drugs? Or, more importantly, of how guilt and knowledge used to be dealt with? Specially of the "I don't want to know" variety.

Any help will be much appreciated.
posted by MiguelCardoso to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I really doubt you're going to find any sources for getting drunk, as reckless drinking was frowned upon in the mainstream since Roman times.

For drugs, there's the Vin Mariani which is a wine soaked in coca extract (cocaine) that was endorsed as a great elixir, and panacea by the Pope, and other big names at the time.

Heroin and cocaine, of course, were both tauted for their medicinal value in magazines all the way up until right before World War I I believe. I don't think this is what you're looking for. My understanding is you want ads that promote recreational drug/alcohol use before the consequences were fully known. Well it was not in vogue to use drugs recreationally when they were first discovered and it was known quite quickly that they form a dependence and shouldn't be used carelessly (see New Jersey junk yard heroin addicts, selling junk for smack money, "junkies").

Marijuana use, which is still really debatable if it even has significant health problems, was never even tauted for its medicinal use if I am correct. It was not very well known and barely tolerated as its use was by the migrant Mexican population then the southern blacks, eventually moving north.

You may find this Car Sagan essay on marijuana useful. I don't know how much though.

Also try looking for Timothy Leary's ramblings about LSD. Once again I think you're looking for something that was once thought of as healthy and isn't. LSD has am extremely low toxicity and no known long term health side effects. You might want to check out some of the CIA uses of LSD, before they knew what it did. But this is not recreational.

I'm sure you're aware of Victorian uses of opium (Kubla Kahn, Confessions of an Opium Eater or whatever it was called), which is what you're going to have to go to for the coveted "known to be bad now, not known to be bad then and used recreationally" criteria you set forth.

Beyond cigarettes you will have a very hard time finding any recreational substance that is unhealthy and used purely recreationally throughout its history of being used.
posted by geoff. at 9:37 PM on May 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Car Sagan is Carl Sagan's half brother.
posted by geoff. at 9:38 PM on May 5, 2004

Response by poster: Heroin and cocaine, of course, were both tauted for their medicinal value in magazines all the way up until right before World War I I believe. I don't think this is what you're looking for.

No, geoff - it is! Advertising doesn't interest me at all: they were the only references I could find. Your suggestions were very useful - all I had was Freud's laudatory paper on cocaine and, tangentially, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and their carefree attitude to... laudanum, was it? Many thanks!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:02 PM on May 5, 2004

on the cultural/societal front, i'm reminded of the crazy amounts of hard liquor that people were always drinking in 70's and 80's shows like Dallas and soap operas. i was a kid and i swear i was brainwashed into believing that when you were an adult, you automatically drank two highballs when you walked into anyone's house.

also, i do remember the wink-wink use of the term, "one for the road." it seems to me that drinking and driving was much more tolerated back then. that expression dropped out of use in the late 80's (except when ironically employed) when drunk driving became a big topic.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:02 PM on May 5, 2004

Ok well if anything interests you, here's some good images:'s Vin Mariani

Heroin conception and history with picture

Also try searching Erowid's vaults

I did a report on this a while back. The Internet is somewhat lacking and you'll most likely have to go to primary sources, which will be a bitch to do. You'll be unlikely to find anything promoting heroin/opiate use after the Food and Drug Act (1906), as that several limited the whole tonic industry. Heroin and cocaine quickly gained somewhat of a stigma and you most definitely won't find anything promoting them in any context after 1970's Drug Control Act. Most likely medical journal articles will stop at the beginning of Prohibition.

You'll have a very small time frame if you limit yourself to the 20th century. Victorian area, specifically around the 1880s till the turn of the century produced the most resources as everything was new back then.

This is really American-centric, sorry. I have no idea what the more liberal Europe did in reaction to recreational substances. If I'm correct Portugal still has that wormwood extract of absinthe, albeit not the same strength as it used to be.
posted by geoff. at 10:15 PM on May 5, 2004

Response by poster: Dallas - yes! People were always serving themselves stiff whiskies from that famous sideboard at the Ranch. Although Sue Ellen was already a warning against alcoholism, liver-transplant Hagman, playing JR, was portrayed as knowing how to "hold his drink".

But British (less) and American movies (more) in the Fifties and Sixties - the James Bond series, you reminded me, is a great PC-meter inasmuch as smoking and drinking slowly progress from being ultra-cool to understandable to slightly wicked to downright outrageous) - were studded and festooned with cocktails and the "I need a drink" therapy of alcohol.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:17 PM on May 5, 2004

James Bond is a great idea! if you travel that path a bit, don't forget an obligatory mention of the 70's George Bush vs. today's George Bush.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:26 PM on May 5, 2004

interesting journal article on moral millitancy, and regulation of smoking, drugs, porn and prostitution, comparing it to the 19th century's attempts at it (may not fit, but interesting background)

The Pleasure Police and Reason article about the book
posted by amberglow at 10:41 PM on May 5, 2004

I've heard that in the 'old-days' airline stewardesses used to offer cigarettes to the passengers after meals like they do with coffee. I have no evidence of this but I've always thought it's an interesting anecdote, in contrast with today's smoke free flights. Apparently smoking sections were introduced in 1973.
(while googling for some sources on this I found out about "Cigarette Cards". They also reflect the complete change in attitude towards cigarettes. There are even some wartime ones with civil defense messages.)
posted by golo at 11:40 PM on May 5, 2004

wow, geoff, can you speak more to the origin of the word "junkie"? I tried to look up some of the phrases you dropped (new jersey junkyard addicts, etc) and couldn't find anything, nor did "junk etymology" turn up anything useful. Did "junk" really come about because people sold junk to buy heroin?
posted by fishfucker at 2:36 AM on May 6, 2004

junk (1) - "worthless stuff," 1338, junke "old cable or rope" (nautical), of uncertain origin, perhaps from O.Fr. junc "rush," from L. juncus "rush, reed." Nautical use extended to "old refuse from boats and ships" (1842), then to "old or discarded articles of any kind" (1884). The verb meaning "to throw away as trash, to scrap" is from 1916. Junkie "drug addict" is attested from 1923, but junk for "narcotic" is said to be older. Junk food is from 1973; junk art is from 1966; junk mail first attested 1954.
junk (2) - "Chinese sailing ship," 1613, from Port. junco, from Malay jong "ship, large boat" (13c.), probably from Javanese djong.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:36 AM on May 6, 2004

I've heard that junkie was first used for chinese opium addicts in london, and named after the ships.
posted by amberglow at 9:47 AM on May 6, 2004

From what I remember (I have a copy of my speech but didn't cite sources, being that it is a speech), it began in Hoboken of junk being sold by heroin addicts to pay for their addiction. This sparked the real backlash against using heroin and moving to different drugs for pain medication. 1923 sounds right though I thought it was slighly earlier.

I believe it was also referenced in Borrough's "Naked Lunch", but I do not have it in front of me.

Ok, I just found it, from the above link:
...and in East Coast cities a substantial population of recreational users was reported (some supported their habits by collecting and selling scrap metal, hence the name "junkie").
posted by geoff. at 10:44 AM on May 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

Modern Drunkard Magazine did an issue on "the best of the primetime hoochers," with my namesake, Otis Campbell, topping this list.

There's also my all-time favorite boozer, Mr. Gin Gin. (Warning: Geocities self link).
posted by Otis at 11:50 AM on May 6, 2004

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