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The Surprising Reason American Hospitals Began Banning Smoking In The 1960s

After having provided ash trays and sold cigarettes for years, hoispitals suddenly started banning such activity — and it wasn’t for the reason one might think

Andrew Martin
3 min readNov 19, 2023

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There are many things in everyday life that are bad for us. One of the most widely recognized in this category is smoking cigarettes. However, it was barely 50 years ago that American hospitals sold cigarettes to patients, including nurses having patients buy them directly from their beds.

Cigarettes became so popular in the United States that at one point more adults smoked than those who did not. At the high point, 54% of self-reporting adults acknowledged being smokers in a 1954 survey. Since then, the numbers have continued to go down, with only 12.5% of adults still claiming smoker status in 2020.

The decline in smoking numbers have coincided with increasing information being discovered and released to the public about the health dangers of the habit. However, before that time, it was something embraced by hospitals and medical staff.

Medical professionals were even used as marketing fodder by some tobacco companies. One 1932 Camel print ad depicted a young nurse smoking a cigarette, with the tagline of “You like them FRESH? So do I!”

Up until the 1970s, it was common place for doctors, nurses and other staff to smoke cigarettes while at work inside of hospitals. That’s not to mention the doctors who smoked cigars and pipes — even when consulting when patients. Over time, this evolved into smoking lounges and then ultimately smoking bans.

While smoking was permitted in hospitals, in many locations patients could purchase packs of cigarettes straight from their bed, along with other sundries like playing cards, chewing gum and other small creature comforts. There were also vending machines dispensing packs. Not wanting to miss an opportunity of marketing, some hospitals provided their own ashtrays, emblazoned with their names and logos.

A horrible fire in a Hartford, Connecticut hospital caused by smoking claimed 16 lives in 1961. After that, a number of hospitals imposed smoking…

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Andrew Martin

Dabbler in history, investing & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about history, diversity, culture, sports, investing and crypto.