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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Smoking:
mid 20th century and before

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While I was growing up in the 1940s and into the 1950s, it seemed to me that all men smoked. Of course there must have been exceptions, but they did not stand out as far as I was concerned.

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Men and Smoking

Smoking supported by WW2 forces

My eldest brother was in the Navy during the war, and when he came home on leave he would usually have some large (possibly 1 lb) tins of Navy Tobacco, from which my father used to pay me to make his 'roll ups'.

Desmond Dyer

Men had of course smoked in previous years, from way before I was born. Presumably they enjoyed it, but peer pressure was part of it. To be 'in' with one's group, one had to smoke - from the gentleman 'passing the port' after a convivial dinner to the tramps tramping from one night's accommodation to the next.

By the time I was old enough to notice, smoking tobacco in pipes had largely given way in popularity to smoking cigarettes. So it was generally the older men who smoked pipes while the younger men preferred cigarettes.

I always wondered why the beards and moustaches of older men always looked a lighter, more yellowy colour round their mouths and noses. Only later did I realise that it was from the smoke of tobacco. These men had yellow teeth too.

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Women and smoking

Cigarette holder, as used by women in the 1920s and 1930s

Women's cigarette holder

My mother told me that it was not thought acceptable for 'nice' women to smoke in Victorian and Edwardian times, but that things started to change in the 1920s and 1930s. Fashionable women then smoked cigarettes from long and elegant cigarette holders which kept the smoke away from their faces.

My mother also said that she used to smoke in the 1930s, but gave it up. I suspect that she, like most other housewives in the 1940s, had little choice due to the shortages of the war years and the austerity afterwards. Some women went back to smoking after war, but my mother - again like most other women I knew - did not.

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Drawbacks of smoking, even before we knew it was dangerous

In my childhood, houses tended to reek of stale tobacco smoke, and cinemas and trains always did. We children lived in households where adults smoked. So our clothes and hair smelt of stale tobacco smoke too. Not that any of us thought much about it at the time because we knew nothing else. It was not generally accepted that smoking was bad for health.

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Pat Cryer
webmaster

Men, however, like my father, who were in the armed forces, had tobacco supplied during the war, presumably to keep their spirits up. The side effect was of course addiction, although that was not a word in general use. Men smoked, so it was thought, simply because it was 'right' that they should have their pleasure.

My father was addicted. He certainly tried quite hard to give up smoking because it was so expensive, relatively speaking. This always came to a head immediately after the various Budgets when the Chancellor inevitably put a few pence on the price of a packet of cigarettes. My father never succeeded, though, for more than one or two days at a time and was in a dreadful mood during the process. He always gave in and bought himself cigarettes, which my mother welcomed, in spite of the expense, because his mood immediately improved. If she had known the harm it was doing, things might have been different.

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Smoking in public places

Smoking was permitted and accepted in most public places. It was quite normal to be stopped in the street and asked if one had a light - presumably because the individual concerned had run out of matches or petrol for his or her lighter. It seemed the friendly thing to do to provide the light where one could. No-one seemed concerned at being approached by a perfect stranger if he or she was a fellow smoker.

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