The Rise and Fall of Smoking for Asthma

We’re used to taking drugs by mouth or perhaps by injection, but how about getting your medication by smoking a cigarette containing the drug? Beginning in the 19th century, patients suffering from shortness of breath could purchase anti-asthma cigarettes, which usually contained stramonium (stinkweed) or potash, but sometimes also included narcotics. These cigarettes contained no tobacco. Preparations such as Asthmador Cigarettes and other brands were marketed aggressively and sold over the counter in most Western countries to relieve the stress of bronchial asthmatic sudden attacks. Although critics complained that the cigarettes increased bronchial inflammation, by the beginning of the 20th century smoking was often the first line of treatment for asthmatics. The directions are jarring: “Exhaust the lungs of air, then fill the mouth with smoke and take a deep breath, drawing the smoke down into the lungs. Hold a few seconds, then exhale, through mouth and nostrils. Prescribed dosage 4 a day.” While we no longer see several of the ingredients in active practice, they were rather prevalent in past pharmaceuticals.