Did you know that the manufacture and sale of cigarettes and cigarette papers were illegal in Iowa from 1896 to 1921?
The law passed by the Legislature in 1896 took effect on July 4, and was promptly appealed, first to District Court, where it was upheld, then to the Iowa Supreme Court. The catalyst for the law was the possibility that opium was being added to smokes.
Violation of the law was also immediate. Bootleg cigarettes were easy to find and cigarettes were sent by mail from other states.
A Nov. 23, 1896 article in the Evening Gazette reported “Cigaret selling in Cedar Rapids appears to be a thing of the past. Persons who have investigated the matter say that there is not a place in town where cigarets are on sale. Yet cigarets are smoked, but certainly not in any such numbers as before the law went into effect.
“There are two classes of cigaret smokers. One is composed of young men who are generally of age and who well understand their personal duties and responsibilities. Another, a much larger class, is composed of boys from ten to sixteen years of age. Smoking among this class has certainly decreased very greatly since last July. There are some few who still continue to get cigarets. As a rule they procure cigaret papers and fill them themselves.
“A few days ago a Gazette reporter was passing up First avenue when he saw a group of more than a half dozen lads ranging in age from twelve to sixteen years ‘chipping in’ their money for some purpose. Just as the reporter was passing another lad was hailed and he was asked if he did not want to ‘chip in’ and send to Iowa City for cigarets. The boys explained on being questioned that they were in the habit of pooling their money and sending by mail to a dealer in Iowa City who supplies them with the much coveted article. It is probable that nearly all the cigarets which are smoked, aside from those made by the smoker, are ordered by mail.”
The ban was repealed in 1921 because high numbers of soldiers returning from serving in World War I were smokers. Senator M.B. Pitt of Logan supported the repeal, saying, “If it wasn’t immoral for the Iowa boys fighting in France to smoke cigarets, it isn’t immoral now.”
(Note: “cigaret” was long the spelling style of The Gazette)