In January 1943, Utah Chronicle columnist Bette Pomerance penned an op-ed titled “Scribe Finds Weed Vices Common at the U.” Pomerance neither condemns nor defends the prominence of cigarette smoking on campus; her point is limited to chronicling students’ commitment to the vice. When contextualized against local and national historical resources, Pomerance’s column allows us to understand tobacco’s cultural role in the university community of the 1940s.
The article mentions “restricted areas” — campus venues where smoking is banned — and students’ “flagrant violations of the ‘no fagging’ rule.” Pomerance cheekily notes students’ unflagging devotion to tobacco, writing that offenders chastised for smoking in restricted areas “swear… to never do it again — and get caught.”
Pomerance also records a few epicenters of campus tobacco culture, including the university game room and the College Inn, an off-campus restaurant that once stood on 200 S. and University Street. “One could hardly write an article on smoking without mentioning the College Inn,” she writes, calling it “the best place to obtain a non-average report card, tubercular lungs and stomach ulcers.”
In the Summer 1997 issue of Continuum, the University of Utah’s official magazine, alumnus Rod Decker recalls visiting the College Inn as a 10-year-old to find it full of college students smoking cigarettes and “fleeing supervised wholesomeness.” The non-smokers tended to eat in the Union cafeteria where smoking was prohibited, Decker writes, while tobacco users congregated at the campus-adjacent eatery.
Decker and Pomerance’s recollections reflect national trends in tobacco usage. The early 1940s saw one of America’s sharpest spikes in per capita tobacco consumption, and more women took up smoking during the ’40s than any other decade. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014) Pomerance’s column notes the prevalence of smoking among university co-eds, writing of “the entire male population and half the female with a weed in his or her face.”
The presence of servicemen also contributed to the clouds of smoke on campus. Tobacco played a significant role in military culture. A July 1943 article from the Davis County Clipper titled “Smokes and the Soldier” detailed the ways that cigarettes “play a prominent part in many phases of the life of a soldier.” A January 1943 issue of the Vernal Express includes a write-up on care packages assembled by the local Red Cross chapter, which necessarily featured cigarettes. As rationalized by The New York Times during World War I, “tobacco may not be a necessary of life, in the ordinary sense of that term, but it certainly lightens the inevitable hardships of war as nothing else can do.” (Brandt, p. 52).
A letter to the editor published in a February 1943 edition of the Chronicle directly addresses the issue of servicemen smoking on campus. In response to complaints about soldiers smoking in buildings and areas where it is prohibited, the writer acknowledges that servicemen should follow the rules, but takes issue with critics’ tone.
“This note, then, is directed not to the validity or invalidity of the ‘no-smoking’ rule, but to one who, in times of war and stress, when the very life of our country hangs in the balance concerns himself with trivial things like smoking in school buildings. Let me say that we service men are concerned with affairs far more momentous,” he writes.
Another letter to the editors of the Chronicle chastised students for failing to properly dispose of their cigarettes, creating fire hazards and cluttering campus. “Just a little effort on the part of each of you can make our campus something to be remembered by the numerous visitors who come here,” wrote Marian R. Jones in 1949.
A 1941 Utah Chronicle article by Frank Allen, “Scribe Gets Hot Under Collar Over Paper’s Cigarette Ad Problem,” addresses an ongoing debate over the absence of tobacco advertising in the student paper. According to Allen, the Chronicle printed a number of letters to the editor alternately praising and decrying the paper’s decision not to advertise cigarettes. Throughout the 1940s – and indeed, to this day – the Chronicle remains an important venue for discussion of student smoking practices.
Tobacco use, on college campuses and elsewhere, has steadily decreased since the 1960s. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014) In 2018, the University of Utah declared itself a smoke-free campus, sparking another wave of Chronicle op-eds. The first sentence of Pomerance’s 1943 column — “each year about this time someone starts a debate about the use of nicotine on our campus” — still rings true. While university nicotine culture has changed dramatically, some things never do.
Emerson Oligschlaeger graduated from the University of Utah in 2018 with a degree in mass communication. Emerson currently works for KSL NewsRadio and plans to pursue a career in community journalism.
Frank Allen, “Scribe Gets Hot Under Collar over Paper’s Cigarette Ad Problem,” The Utah Chronicle, February 6, 1941, 4.
Bette Pomerance, “Pomerance Says: Scribe Finds Weed Vices Common at U,” The Utah Chronicle, January 21, 1943, 2.
“Local Red Cross to Make 275 Comfort Kits,” Vernal Express, January 28, 1943, 1.
S/Sgt. OES., “Upholds Soldiers,” The Utah Chronicle, February 11, 1943, 2.
“Smokes and the Soldier,” Davis County Clipper, July 23, 1943, 6.
Marian R. Jones, “Battered Campus, Untidy Lawns Cause Greater Tuition Costs,” The Utah Chronicle, October 12, 1949, 2.
Brandt, Allan. The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2007.
Rod Decker, “Campus Hangouts Throughout the Years: A Cautionary Tale” Continuum,(Summer 1997): 24.
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US) Office on Smoking and Health. “The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General.” Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US), 2014, Chapter 13, Patterns of Tobacco Use Among U.S. Youth, Young Adults, and Adults.