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Capnomania and Fumimania

Part 2 of 4

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Robert Service’s inspiration for “The Ballad of Salvation Bill”

In his autobiography, Ploughman of the Moon, Service describes in detail a conversation with a Jake Skilly, who along with Service and a couple named McTosh, navigated their way down the McKenzie, the Rat, The Bell, and the Porcupine Rivers on their way to Dawson.

Skilly was a “Tobacco Fiend” and during the trip he seemed to think of nothing but his dwindling supply of cigarettes which, as in “The Ballad of Salvation Bill”, he rolled from magazine pages.

Service was talking to Skilly: “How many pages left, Jake?” I asked.

“About thirty,” he told me gloomily.

I made a rapid calculation. Allowing twenty-four smokes a day, that gave us only two and a half days. Humm! I put more guts into my stroke. As I sat crisped in the bow I could hear his grating voice; “I think I ought to warn you, partner, if this paper pans out I’m liable to go bughouse.”

“Nice cheerful prospect,” I said. “And then what?”

“Well ye mind that yarn ye told me of them two stiffs ye found in a cabin wi’ their head ablowed off?. . . I’ve just been athinkin’ that’s what might happen to you an’ me—if this here paper gives out.”

I laughed as at a merry jest, but as time went on I did not think it so funny. A homicidal maniac in the making is not the most pleasant of companions. I got to watching him more and more, and my nervousness increased. And that night he told me: “Ye know, I always figgered if I run outa paper for cigarettes I’d be a fit candidate for the loony ward. Well, I’ll tell ye what happened to me the winter I ate my dog. A wolverine got into the cabin and chewed all my paper to pulp. I hated my dad but I sure did like Ma. I carried that there Bible everywhere. I never read it, but jest liked to have it by me, thinkin’ it might come in useful. Well it did—mighty useful. For I smoked it through from Genesis to Revelation. Damn poor smokin’ at that, but it saved my life. Yes sir, that Bible saved me from a bullet in my bean.”

As I bent to paddle I felt my spine creep. The man was unbalanced, but whether to the point of insanity or not I could not determine. It is true he was a nicotine fiend and his nerves were sustained by tobacco. And only strong cigarettes could satisfy his craving. He loathed a pipe. Once when I handed him mine he returned it with repugnance.

And incidentally, lest it be thought that I exaggerate in my fear that my partner was going crazy, let me say that that was what ultimately happened. A few years later, in his lonely cabin on the Arctic Ocean, Jake went mad and shot off the top of his head.

From his book of memoirs that covers his youth, the 40 years up to the time he left Dawson, Canada: Ploughman to Moon, An Adventure into Memory by Robert Service, New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1945; pages 450 and 452.

I have every sympathy with the American who was so horrified by what he had read of the effects of smoking that he gave up reading.
—Henry G. Strauss


To cease smoking is the easiest thing I ever did. I ought to know because I’ve done it a thousand times.
—Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens; 1835-1910)

Some Additional Excerpted Thoughts about Smoking from the Internet

  • Nicotine, like alcohol, is addictive for certain people. Some smokers can turn their habit on and off—smoke or not smoke—at will.
  • Others, about 25 percent of smokers, find the addictive powers of nicotine impossible to control.
  • For these people, smoking is not a habit, but a true addiction.
  • Habits are lodged in the subconscious—not the reasoning mind.
  • That’s why it’s so tough to quit—the reasoning mind understands that smoking is dangerous, but the compulsion to smoke resides in the subconscious—the result of literally millions of pleasurable responses to the drug nicotine.
  • Nicotine has imprinted the brain’s survival center with the idea that we need nicotine for relief from tension, stress, boredom, etc.
  • Our natural reward center is changed—fooled by nicotine.


  • Risks of Being a Smoker:
  • Chance of emphysema.
  • Heart disease.
  • Cancer risk increased by 100 to 1,000 percent.
  • Hundreds to thousands of dollars a year wasted on cigarettes.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Poor circulation.
  • Socially unacceptable behavior.
  • Burned clothing and furniture.


Benefits of Being a Non-Smoker:

  • No more craving for nicotine.
  • Less chance of weight gain.
  • Large amount of money saved.
  • More energy.
  • Better taste functions.
  • Return of healthy lung function.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Reduced risk of disabling diseases.
  • Fewer social or business restrictions.
  • Cigarettes contain at least 43 distinct cancer-causing chemicals. Smoking is directly responsible for 87 percent of lung cancer cases and causes most cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
  • Smoking is also a major factor in coronary heart disease and stroke; may be causally related to malignancies in other parts of the body; and has been linked to a variety of other conditions and disorders, including slowed healing of wounds, infertility, and peptic ulcer disease.
  • Smoking by parents is associated with a wide range of adverse effects in their children, including exacerbation of asthma, increased frequency of colds and ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome.
  • An estimated 150,000 to 300,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infections in children less than 18 months of age, resulting in 7,500 to 15,000 annual hospitalizations, are caused by secondhand smoke.
  • Secondhand smoke involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers from other people's cigarettes is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a known human (Group A) carcinogen, responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in U.S. nonsmokers.
  • As smoking has declined among the White non-Hispanic population, tobacco companies have targeted both African Americans and Hispanics with intensive merchandising, which includes billboards, advertising in media targeted to those communities, and sponsorship of civic groups and athletic, cultural, and entertainment events.
  • The prevalence of smoking is highest among Native Americans/Alaskan Natives (40.89 percent), next highest among African Americans and whites (24.3 percent), followed by Hispanics (18.1 percent) and Asians and Pacific Islanders (15.1 percent).
  • Tobacco advertising plays an important role in encouraging young people to begin a lifelong addiction to smoking before they are old enough to fully understand its long-term health risk.
  • Approximately 90 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21.
  • Workplaces nationwide are going smoke-free to provide clean indoor air and protect employees from the life-threatening effects of secondhand smoke.
  • Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. workforce worked under a smoke-free policy in 1999 but the percentage of workers protected varies by state, ranging from a high of 89.3 percent in Utah to 48.7 percent in Nevada.
  • Employers have a legal right to restrict smoking in the workplace or to implement a totally smoke-free workplace policy.
  • Exceptions often arise in the case of collective bargaining agreements with unions.

Is Nicotine Really an Addictive Drug?

  • Nicotine is an addictive drug, which when inhaled in cigarette smoke, reaches the brain faster than drugs that enter the body intravenously.
  • Smokers become not only physically addicted to nicotine; they also link smoking with many social activities, making smoking a difficult habit to break.
  • Some people would argue that the term “smoke-a-holic” is just a cute euphemism which should not be compared to what is considered a degrading disorder.
  • Contrary to this belief, nicotine addiction can be equally as strong and deadly as any other condition.
  • In fact, if one were to total the number of people who die yearly of all the other deadly conditions combined, they would not be equal to the number of premature deaths attributed to cigarette smoking.
  • Until recent times, the idea of nicotine being a physiologically addictive substance was controversial in the world-wide medical community.
  • For a drug to be considered addictive, it must meet certain criteria.

  • First, it must be capable of inducing physical withdrawal upon cessation.
  • Nicotine abstinence syndrome is a well documented, established fact.
  • Second, tolerance to the drug usually develops.
  • Increasingly larger doses become necessary to achieve the same desired effects.
  • Smokers experience this phenomenon as their cigarette consumption gradually increases from what probably was sporadic occasional use to a required daily consumption of one or more packs.
  • The third criterion is that an addictive substance becomes a totally consuming necessity to its user, usually resulting in what is considered by a society as anti-social behavior.
  • Many have argued that cigarette smoking fails to fulfill this requirement.
  • True, most smokers do not resort to deviant behaviors to maintain their dependency, but this is because most smokers are able to easily obtain the full complement of cigarettes they need to satisfy their addiction.
  • When smokers are deprived of easy accessibility to cigarettes, the situation is totally different.
  • During World War II, in concentration camps in Germany, prisoners were not given enough food to fulfill minimum caloric nutritional requirements.
  • They were literally starving to death.
  • A common practice among smoking prisoners was to trade away their scarce supplies of life sustaining food for cigarettes.
  • Even today, in underdeveloped countries, such as Bangladesh, parents with starving children barter away essential food for cigarettes.
  • This is hardly considered normal behavior.
  • Numerous people admit to having gone through ashtrays, garbage cans and, if necessary, when their own supplies are depleted due to carelessness or unforeseen circumstances.
  • Later, they consider it sick to think that they ever performed such a grotesque act, but many realize that if they were currently smoking and again caught in a similar predicament, they would be fully capable of repeating the repulsive incident.
  • Nicotine is a drug! It is an addictive drug; and if you let it, it will kill you!
  • Consider this when you get the urge for a cigarette: One puff can and most often will reinforce the addiction.
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