Washington enacts nation's first law to ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone, adult or child, on March 7, 1893.

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 11/26/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7557
On March 7, 1893, Washington state enacts the nation's first law to ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone, adult or child. The law makes it unlawful for any person to buy, sell, give away, or manufacture cigarettes or cigarette paper. House Bill 236, is introduced by Republican state legislator C. T. Roscoe, from Everett. The Senate passes it and Republican Governor John Hart McGraw signs it into law.

The bill sailed through the House and went on to the Senate, where it was amended to ban even the possession of cigarettes. The Senate approved the tougher measure with only one dissenting vote, but Roscoe's colleagues in the House balked. A conference committee recommended that the original language be restored, the legislature agreed, and McGraw signed the bill into law on March 7, 1893.

The law made Washington the first state in the nation to ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone, adults or minors. The law was struck down in the federal courts the following July, but Progressive reformers in Washington State continued to agitate against "coffin nails" (a.k.a. little white slavers, dope sticks, devil's toothpicks, Satan sticks, coffin pills, little white devils). The Washington State Legislature passed another cigarette prohibition law in 1907.

Sources: HistoryLink Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Cigarette Prohibition in Washington, 1893-1911" (by Cassandra Tate), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed November 26, 2005).

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