“A Sovereign Remedy”: Grimault & Co’s Asthma Cigarette Empire

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

Introduction

Most today agree that smoking is, medically speaking, bad for you. From the Surgeon Generals’ first warnings in 1964 through the anti-tobacco media campaigns of the Truth Initiative to the growing and controversial trend of vaping, Americans since the 1970s have, as Sarah Milov recently wrote, “increasingly identified themselves by their rejection of smoking.”[1] This shift in public perception has not been isolated to the U.S. Warning labels with explicit images of cancerous lungs, increasing sales taxes, and near blanket prohibitions of smoking in public spaces are now all commonplace in many nations across the globe.[2]

But across much of the world during the much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, public and medical opinion on cigarettes and their impact on health was more or less the opposite. Starting in the middle 1800s, for example, dozens of brands of “medicinal cigarettes” appeared on pharmacy shelves in nations across the West, many marketed as an effective treatment for asthma, congestion, and fever.[3] One of the most successful brands was Grimault & Co. of Paris, who produced, marketed, and sold “Cigarettes Indiennes” as a “sovereign remedy” for asthma between the 1850s and 1930s. Grimault made their Indian cigarettes from a mixture of tobacco, cannabis, datura, and belladonna, and distributed them across the world, from their pharmaceutical factory in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine to distributors and pharmacies in over two dozen countries, for nearly a century. 

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