Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky


“Ah these cigarettes!” Porfirry Petrovitch ejaculated at last, having lighted one. “They are pernicious, positively pernicious, and yet I can’t give them up! I cough, I begin to have tickling in my throat and a difficulty in breathing. You know I am a coward, I went lately by Dr. B——n; he always gives at least half an hour to each patient. He positively laughed looking at me; he sounded me: ‘Tobacco’s bad for you,’ he said, ‘your lungs are affected.’ But how am I to give it up?

I just finished reading Crime and Punishment, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1866.

While the book provided fascinating insights into the themes of poverty, guilt, utilitarianism, religion, and freedom, the brief excerpt above is what stood out to me the most.

Remember, this book was written in 1866 – almost 150 years ago, and apparently even that long ago doctors were aware of the dangers of cigarettes. And even users seemed to know that it was addictive.

Yet it wan’t until almost 100 years later (1964) that the Surgeon General of the U.S. wrote a report about the dangers of cigarette smoking. He said that the nicotine and tar in cigarettes cause lung cancer. In 1965 the Congress of the U.S. passed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. It said that every cigarette pack must have a warning label on its side stating “Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health.”

Why did it take so long? Research reports analyzing the negative health consequences of smoking first started to appear in the 1930s, and then in 1952, Reader’s Digest published “Cancer by the Carton,” an article detailing the dangers of smoking. The effect of the article was enormous: Similar reports began appearing in other periodicals, and the smoking public began to take notice. The following year, cigarette sales declined for the first time in over two decades.

Currently, slightly less than 18% of adult Americans smoke, compared to 42% in 1965.

While that is certainly a positive trend, I don’t understand why it is not at 0%.

How much more evidence is needed to convince people of the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, and to get them to quit?

I just hope 150 years from now, people will not be reading a book like The Runaway Jury and remarking that somehow the problems from 150 years ago are still with them in 2165.

One thought on “Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky

  1. Jim, it’s funny that you chose smoking to write about. My blog this morning includes an award-winning slide presentation on the dangers of smoking.

    And yet people continue this nasty habit. I have found, as I said in my post, that quitting is a lot more complicated than just knowing it’s bad for you. The chemicals are designed to be addictive, and deciding to quit is probably the easiest part.

    I’ve been listening to an audiobook (college lecture) on the brain and addiction. It talks about the biology and neuroscience of habits. It’s fascinating. It’s found at and is called “The Addictive Brain.”

    My post is here:


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