Boomer Mothers Smoked While Pregnant

Mister Boomer spied an endangered species this past week. This scene was something that we commonly saw in our Boomer Years, but now sightings are rare. Heading to work one day, Mister B saw a woman in a dress, by all appearances herself heading to work. What was unusual about her was she that was very pregnant — and smoking a cigarette.

World War II had secured a steady stream of nicotine-addicted GIs for the tobacco companies. On returning home, many of their soon-to-be-wives picked up the habit — if they hadn’t already during the war. Yet all was not perfect for Big Tobacco.

By the early 1940s there were rumblings among the medical community about the potential harm that could be done to the human body by smoking. Further, these science-minded individuals knew that whatever the pregnant mother ingested was going to find its way into the baby’s bloodstream. Big Tobacco was not going to take this information lightly.

The companies reacted forcefully, with counter ad campaigns, and by 1954 they were funding “scientific” studies of their own, intended to show that smoking had no effect on mother or baby. Camel cigarettes ran a series of ads promoting their product as “the brand most doctors choose.” Philip Morris published ads quoting their own studies with a drawing of a mother and her child, flanked by the headline of, “Mother and Baby Are Doing Fine.” Still, resistance was building with both consumers and doctors.

The U.S. government stepped into the fray and in January of 1964, the Surgeon General released the results of the very first government study on smoking and health. The study concluded that smoking while pregnant increased the risk of premature birth, birth defects, lower birth weight and ectopic pregnancies, where the egg grows outside of the uterus — and, oh yes, risk to the mother of heart disease, stroke, gum disease and cancer. The study stated that as the mother took smoke into her lungs, nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar passed through the placenta and umbilical cord into the baby’s bloodstream.

Congress attempted to establish warning labels on packaging, but Big Tobacco fought back, getting key Congressmen to agree that the wording of the proposed labeling was too harsh. In 1965, Congress passed a modified version of their original warning label with the Federal Cigarette Advertising Act. This was followed by more restrictive wording in advertising and packaging with the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969, which also banned cigarette advertising on television and radio.

Mister Boomer’s mother, and most of the mothers of his friends, smoked while pregnant. “It hasn’t hurt me yet,” was the phrase his mom often spoke when, in later years, Mister B and his siblings tried to get her to quit. Boomer mothers could be heard from coast to coast saying how they smoked (and drank, but that is a story for another time) while they were pregnant, and we boomers turned out OK. We were living proof that nothing bad happened. They were addicted, but times were changing and attitudes with them.

In 1973 Congress passed the most restrictive labeling to that date, requiring wording on each pack that said cigarettes contain “toxic substances.” Congress would continue to modify labeling into the 1980s and beyond.

As he has stated before, Mister Boomer always hated smoking (read: Boomers First Accepted Smoking, Then They Rejected It). Maybe his exposure to the toxic substances in the womb turned him away from the habit throughout his life, but his brother and sister were also crusaders in their fight to get their parents to quit. They finally did in the 1980s, when Brother Boomer had his first child, followed by another. The grandparents were not allowed to smoke in his house or near the grandkids. After a couple of years of smoking outside, they relented and gave it up.

Did your mother smoke while she was pregnant with you, boomers?

Boomers Got Cuts and Bruises

Mister Boomer recently heard a discussion about playground safety, and was immediately transported back to his boomer days at the schoolyard. The differences between conditions and attitudes during our time and today are more than striking, starting with the entire concept of keeping kids safe.

These days, every playground has some sort of ground padding, lest the children fall and hurt themselves. These days all visible nuts, bolts and screws have to be covered, lest little hands become injured. These days bare metal is often sheltered from the sun, or a substitute like plastic is used, lest children burn themselves from sun-heated metal. Contrast these things with boomer playgrounds.

First of all, there was the ground. Whether below swings, monkey bars, teeter-totters or merry-go-rounds, there were four choices of ground surface: dirt, concrete, gravel, or, on some occasions, asphalt. Not much thought was given at the time to kids falling off equipment. Most of the time, kids flew off the equipment on purpose, like jumping from a swing at peak height. The merry-go-round spinner is hardly found on playgrounds these days, probably because the whole idea was to get it spinning fast enough to throw kids off to the ground. The results were scrapes and bruises. Boomers called that fun.

In boomer days, everything at the playground was made of metal for durability. Only the swing seats were the exception, though they could be made of metal in some areas. Swing seats were generally made of wood or hard rubber. In all cases, metal heating up in the hot summer sun could burn little legs and arms exposed by wearing shorts and short sleeves. A quick “ow” and play was resumed.

Climbing the monkey bars, or attempting to climb any equipment in a manner that wasn’t intended — a common occurrence — could result in cut fingers when grasping connection points bearing nuts and bolts. Kids often tried to climb up the side posts of the swing sets, or walk up the metal slide. Mister B recalls kids grasping the underside of the metal slide and making their way up as far as they could. For Mister Boomer, the monkey bars were often to blame for a little blood on the hands after a rigorous play session. Mister Boomer’s only broken bone resulted from his five-year old self’s attempt to stand on the metal slide. A fall off the side resulted in a doctor visit and cast.

It was common for children to head back to class after recess with cuts and bruises. In most instances, the kids were not even sent to the school nurse. In summer, it was Mister B’s experience that kids would not stop play unless it was something tremendously serious. A little blood on the fingers or scraped knee was a Red Badge of Courage, not the end of the world.

Mister B can only imagine how a teacher today might react to some blood on a child after recess. And what would happen if a kid appeared in school, covered in scrapes and bruises? In many states the teacher would be required to report the situation. What was an everyday thing for boomers is now the subject of an investigation of parental or other adult physical abuse.

So, which era is better? That may depend on how you define safety, and your point of view on raising children. On the one hand, boomers were allowed to make mistakes that resulted in scrapes and cuts and the occasional concussion or broken bone. It did not freak out our parents; rather, they seemed to take it in stride as part of growing up.

Mister Boomer suspects that some blogger fifty years from now will write a similar post about the days when he got carpel tunnel syndrome from spending so much time grasping a video game console, or texting. For the most part, Mister B is glad he was allowed to get scraped and bruised. It was part of play, and a lesson that there were positives and negatives possible for every situation.

What memories of playground cuts, scrapes, bruises, sprains and broken bones do you have, boomers?