Social Reformers and Regulation: The Prohibition of Cigarettes in the U.S. and Canada

Lee J. Alston, Ruth Dupre, Tomas Nonnenmacher

NBER Historical Working Paper No. 131
Issued in November 2000
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

The apogee of anti-smoking legislation in North America was reached early in the last century. In 1903, the Canadian Parliament passed a resolution prohibiting the manufacture, importation, and sale of cigarettes. Around the same time, fifteen states in the United States banned the sale of cigarettes and thirty-five states considered prohibitory legislation. In both the United States and Canada, prohibition was part of a broad political, economic, and social coalition termed the Progressive Movement. Cigarette prohibition was special interest regulation, though not of the usual narrow neoclassical genre; it was the means by which a group of crusaders sought to alter the behavior of a much larger segment of the population. The opponents of cigarette regulation were cigarette smokers and the more organized cigarette lobby. An active Progressive Movement was the necessary condition for generating interest in prohibition, while the anti-prohibition forces played a more significant role later in the legislative process. The moral reformers' succeeded when they faced little opposition because few constituents smoked and/or no jobs were at stake because there was no cigarette industry. In other words, reform is easy when you are preaching to the converted.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/h0131

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