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In the movie The King's Speech Prince Bertie at some point says his doctors had advised him to smoke, in order to improve his throat's condition.

Does this stupid suggestion represent actual medical consensus of the 1920's or were the screenwriters just being creative?

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I guess you're asking about normal cigarettes but would you also accept answers about other herbs and related remedies (eg. smoking chamomile leaves or similar)? –  rath Jan 26 at 7:39
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@rath It'd be certainly interesting to know that, too. –  Felix Goldberg Jan 26 at 9:44
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3 Answers 3

Asthma cigarettes were an actual treatment at the time - I don't know if the scriptwriters, or history, knew whether the prescription was for tobacco or stramonium cigarettes. It's unlikely anyone believed tobacco had any medical purpose at that time, though its dangers were still largely unknown.

Stramonium, on the other hand, was a well known cure for asthma or other issues with swelling or inflamation of the throat or airways. Also known as thorn-apple cigarettes, they were packed with the dried leaves, flower and fruiting body of the Datura Stramonium plant (aka the thorn-apple). The smoke of the plant contained beladonna alkaloids which acted as an anticholinergic - the physicians may have hoped whatever was causing his stutter would react in the same way to the asthma cigarette as a bronchial tube spasm would.

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In the United States, we have specialists who treat lung conditions called respiratory therapists. My mother was one in the 1990's and she said it was very difficult to convince many elderly patients with asthma to quit smoking since they had been told by their doctors in their youth it improved their asthma. She dealt with hundreds of patients with lung conditions, most who would have been young in the 1920's-1940's. I think this is pretty good proof that this odd medical advice was indeed given.

Smoking causes the airways to constrict, so it can reduce some symptoms of asthma such as wheezing, even though the person is less able to breathe, so it is bad for them and can cause a lethal asthma attack. Quitting smoking also temporarily causes coughing fits as the airways open up, so you can see why these people were skeptical. I imagine this is how such wrong-headed medical advice became orthodox.

People thought it was so good for the lungs, you can see the cyclists in the Tour de France smoking along the way in now iconic photos from the era.

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It's anecdotal and a sample size of just one, but a good friend in high-school suffered from cystic fibrosis. He smoked from a stated firm belief that the smoke relieved the mucous build up. As he wasn't expected to live much past 30 anyways, lung cancer was the least of his concerns. As it was he lived to the ripe old age (for a CF sufferer) of 42.

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It's a nice answer but it's not really all that historical. I mean, I accept that your high school experience was in the past but I don't think that's generally what the term means... –  NotVonKaiser Feb 1 at 22:59
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