BACKGROUND - In the early 1900s, the industrialization of cigarette production rapidly created the first major expansion in tobacco consumption in modern times. AIMS - This article focuses on the “tobacco problem” as it was understood, debated and sought governed in Norway around the time of the First World War. I identify various attempts to define tobacco as a problem, including arguments put forward by the anti-tobacco movement, the medical profession and politicians. How were health, moral-aesthetic and economic conditions articulated and integrated in these arguments? What (if any) addictive elements of smoking were in focus? I also discuss the association between perceptions of the tobacco problem and political attempts to regulate it. There were repeated calls for a state tobacco monopoly to be introduced and municipal licensing system for the sale of cigarettes. DATA - The data are sourced from the journals Tobakskampen (The Tobacco Fight), the journal of the norwegian medical association and parliamentary documents. FINDINGS - The findings suggest that a) to the extent tobacco was perceived as a social problem, it was a moral one (vice), not a behavioural and dependency problem, which alcohol was perceived to be at the time; b) proposals to establish a tobacco monopoly were based on economic arguments only, and lacked any firm connection to social issues, health and morality; and c) the anti-tobacco movement was socially marginal and their commitment to the municipal licensing idea resulted in large regional variations in public support, too large in fact for the idea to be effective. Although the government did not introduce regulations in the 1920s, the industrialization of cigarettes and subsequent developments in advertising caused a “moral panic” among tobacco opponents and created the modern climate of opinion regarding tobacco.
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