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Up In Smoke

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Anti-smoking campaigns are all the rage today, but they are as old as cigarettes – as this 1912 cartoon from the Bisbee Review reveals.

In turn-of-the-century Bisbee, tobacco advertisements beckoned from newspapers, magazines, posters and billboards. Although targeted to adult males, the message was enticing to children.

Newspaper reports from that time tell of youngsters smoking and chewing tobacco, and of a growing concern among school officials that those supplying the children never were brought to account.

Bisbee’s truant officer, Mr. Riggleman, campaigned to prosecute suppliers selling to underage children. In 1910, a teacher caught two 10-year-old students at Lowell School smoking during recess. Riggleman confiscated pipes, packages of tobacco, matches and cigarette papers – “enough to supply a regiment.”

Then professor B.B. Dennis of Lowell School, who long had suspected that many of his students smoked and chewed, rounded up a half-dozen and began questioning them. They implicated other boys in the school and also gave the names of dealers from whom they procured tobacco, cigarette papers and pipes as well as chewing tobacco.

On February 4, 1910, the Bisbee Review reported on a special school board meeting at which it “was resolved to put a stop to the wholesale cigarette smoking that has been made public through the investigations conducted in the Lowell School the past few days, and which shows that girls of tender years … are becoming as badly addicted to the habit as the boys.”

More than 50 children admitted to smoking or chewing – the majority between the ages of 10 and 13, but some as young as 5 and 7.

According to the Review, “the worst feature of the case was the fact that three girls are implicated. All three confessed to smoking cigarettes and obtaining ‘makings’ from the boys. One of them actually chewed the weed, and upon being searched a portion of a plug was found upon her.”

The school officials gave the tobacco sellers a stern warning, but no arrests were made in the case. Riggleman told the board that he interviewed one seller who stated: “What do I care what you do, I’ll only get fined ten dollars.”

The sellers were right. Two years later, very little had changed.

In January 1912, Riggleman discovered a dugout on the hill back of the post office where “a loosely organized society of youngsters gather after school hours and smoke to their hearts content, and sometimes, very probably, to their stomachs distress. … There are fifty boys in the school here who through smoking cigarettes are not fit for school work.”

He swore out a complaint against Naco Road store owner Chris Vukasovich for selling tobacco to a minor. Vukasovich denied having personally sold tobacco to anyone under age, but the judge explained that if any of his employees had done so, Vukasovich was guilty.

Vukasovich pled guilty and paid a fine of $7.50. That same day a fruit dealer pled guilty to the same charge and also paid a fine of $7.50.

Riggleman filed a complaint against Main Street tobacconist E.B. Wallace, but Wallace and his clerk Roy Benton pled not guilty and the case was turned over to a jury.

The defendants had many friends in town who jammed the courtroom.

The jury found the defendants not guilty. The Review reported: “The jury evidently did not place much faith in the testimony or the manner in which the evidence was collected.”

Riggleman had set up a sting operation, using three boys – two 14-year-olds and one 11-year-old. He told them to “get some tobacco at the same places and in the same ways” as they had been getting it. They succeeded easily enough, but the jury found Riggleman’s method distasteful.

After the acquittal, the defendants were congratulated warmly by their many friends.

Photo courtesy Bisbee Mining and Historical Society; research by Tom Vaughan. ©Arizona Capitol Times.

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