History of Cigarette Use in Canada

Before European settlers arrived in what is now Canada, indigenous peoples were growing and using tobacco for religious ceremonies, medicine, and trading. Early European explorers who encountered these indigenous peoples took tobacco back to Europe with them, and the use of tobacco in Europe began to spread slowly.

Early French colonies in Canada imposed duties on tobacco, and citizens were prohibited from smoking on the street or carrying tobacco. During a period of tobacco sales prohibition, French colonists began to grow tobacco themselves for personal use. In 1739, Canadian tobacco was exported to France for the first time.

By the mid-19th century, some Canadians were beginning to question whether the use of tobacco was safe. Doctors and religious leaders were speaking out about the negative health and moral effects that smoking or using tobacco products could have on individuals. At this time, cigarette use was still not frequent and widespread. In 1895, only 66 million cigarettes were sold, which on average is about 13 cigarettes per person, per year.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, alcohol prohibition was looming and Canadian tobacco companies were concerned about how the prohibition would affect their product sales. Tobacco use and the consumption of alcohol often went hand-in-hand, and companies feared the prohibition of alcohol would make it easier for a prohibition of tobacco to be established. However, the eventual prohibition of alcohol in some provinces proved not to have a significant effect on tobacco sales.

During World War I, it was popular practice to send tobacco overseas to soldiers as an act of patriotism, and many soldiers returned home from the war touting the benefits of smoking. This, coupled with the increase in advertising of tobacco products, led to a rise in cigarette use, including among women. In Canada in the 1920s, 2.4 billion cigarettes were consumed, compared to 87 million in 1896.

Celebrities endorsed certain cigarette brands, tobacco companies sponsored parades and events like the first Canadian football radio broadcasts, and tobacco product packaging became more innovative and attractive. Cigarettes were given as gifts on occasions such as Christmas and Father’s Day. During World War II, cigarettes again were offered to soldiers as gifts and symbols of support from back home. As smoking gained in popularity, it became acceptable to smoke in more areas in public places.

By the 1950s, however, doctors and scientists were again sharing concerns about the negative effects of smoking and tobacco use on people’s health. Articles were published in well-known magazines and journals. In 1954, the Canadian government decided to conduct its own study on smoking and its effects on health.

In June 17, 1963, when approximately 50% of Canadians smoked, Canada’s Minister of National Health and Welfare, Judy LaMarsh rose and declared in parliament for the first time "There is scientific evidence that cigarette smoking is a contributory cause of lung cancer and that it may also be associated with chronic bronchitis and coronary heart disease."

Sources: Rob Cunningham, Smoke & Mirrors: The Canadian Tobacco War (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 1996), 29-49.





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