Cigares de Joy
Smoking is rather frowned upon these days and with good reason, given its linkage with cancer, strokes, heart attacks and the like. Cigarette packets are decorated with lurid pictures of some of the problems consuming tobacco cause and smokers with a penchant for a spot of gallows humour take delight in trying to collect the full series of pictures. I suppose they make a useful self-diagnostic kit.
That being the case, it seems somewhat strange to the modern eye that smoking some form of cigarette could be healthy, let alone being helpful to asthmatics but such were the claims for the delightfully named Cigares de Joy. The advert showed a rather vacant-looking young woman, Joy perhaps but not personified, puffing away at a cigarette. The copy advised the reader that said cigarettes “afford immediate relief in cases of asthma, wheezing and winter cough and a little perseverance will affect a permanent cure.” What not to like?
Naturally, the Cigares de Joy were “universally recommended by the most eminent physicians and medical authors” and were so safe to use that you could liberally dispense them to the weaker members of your family or, as the advertising copy claimed, “agreeable to use, certain in their effects, and harmless in their action, they may be safely smoked by ladies and children.” A box of 35 reefers would set you back half a crown and were available from most chemists and stores. Alternatively, you could send your money to Wilcox & Co of 239, Oxford Street in London who would dispatch them to you pronto, without passing on the postal charge.
The Cigares de Joy were described in the Medical Times and Gazette of 1875 as “very useful little agents for inhaling the smoke of stramonium.” So what was stramonium? To give it its full name, Datura stramonium is a member of the nightshade family and was known by a variety of names in England including jimsonweed, Devil’s snare, the wonderful Hell’s bells and Thornapple, to name but a few. The Elizabethan herbalist, John Gerard, was an enthusiastic exponent of Thornapple, writing in his Herball of 1597, “the juice of the Thornapple, boiled with hog’s grease, cureth all inflammators whatsoever, all manner of burnings and scaldings, as well of fire, water, boiling lead, gunpowder, as that which comes by lightning and that in very short time, as myself found in daily practice, to my great credit and profit.”
In Ayuverdic medicine, stramonium was used to deal with the symptoms of asthma, the leaves being smoked in a cigarette or a pipe. It is thought that the practice was introduced into Europe by the Physician General of the East India Company, James Anderson, towards the end of the 18th century. So there would seem be some medical provenance for the efficacy of the Cigares de Joy.
There was one significant downside about the use of stramonium. It was used in certain parts of the world as an analgesic in surgery or for the setting of bones and was known to be a powerful hallucinogen and deliriant, producing intense visions. Indeed, the tropane alkaloids that it contained were fatally toxic in doses only slightly higher than would be used for medicinal purposes. If you smoked too many of the Cigares in too short a time, you would feel high and run the risk of causing yourself harm at best or killing yourself at worst.
They were still available to buy shortly after the end of the Second World War. Unlike many of the cures we have seen, there is a plausible case for arguing that the Cigares de Joy did some good, in moderation, and ingesting was the quickest way of getting the drug into your lungs. But to modern sensibilities, it all seems a bit odd.