When non-smoking threatened the Monarchy – The non-smokers of Lombardy

Fritz Schönpflug: Radetzky, pen-and-ink drawing, c. 1910

Nowadays it can be regarded as common knowledge that smoking damages health; but not only smokers may be surprised to learn that there was a time when non-smokers represented a threat to the entire Monarchy.

Fritz Schönpflug: Radetzky, pen-and-ink drawing, c. 1910

Archduke Ludwig regarded this ‘cigar story’ as ‘a childish prank’, but one that he thought was ‘extremely unpleasant’. To put it more drastically, in 1848 it was a danger for the entire Monarchy. The people of Lombardy had decided to refuse to smoke in order to protest against the political system. In itself this would not have been a significant threat, if only the refusal to smoke had not turned into a prelude to the revolution of 1848. Field Marshall Count Radetzky, the commander in chief of the Austrian army in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, had special leave and additional rations of cigars granted to the soldiers stationed there – on condition that they smoked them conspicuously in the streets of Milan. The non-smoking inhabitants of Lombardy thereupon threw stones at the smoking soldiers and soon street battles broke out, in the course of which many people died.

It was not only the uprising that the Habsburgs had to worry about but also the loss of taxes. After all, the state profited from the people’s taste for smoking, with twenty to thirty per cent of tax revenue coming from the state tobacco monopoly – and in Lombardy it was above all expensive cigars that people smoked. That was why tobacco factories were the first targets of other rebellions, not least because of the use of the double-headed eagle as a symbol of the state monopoly.

In times of political crisis the tobacco monopoly was often suspended, but was re-introduced as soon as the situation had calmed down. It was not necessarily the case that (non-)smoking as a form of protest against measures imposed by the state ended in violence. In the south of Styria, for example, the rebellious population went in for large-scale tobacco smuggling, and this was sometimes seen as a character quality typical of this region. On the other hand, people in Tyrol could get round the tobacco monopoly quite legally: as loyal marksmen in the struggle against Napoleon they had, as it were, earned the right to grow tobacco, even though this was granted for a short time only.

Christina Linsboth