Friday, February 23, 2007

Why Was Smoking Bad For Your Feet?

It is common knowledge that smoking and drinking are bad habits, and that people should avoid bankruptcy if they can. But few people in the West today think of smokers or drinkers as criminals, any more than they would expect a bankrupt to be humiliated in public.
It was not always so. In Britain in the 17th century, for instance, undischarged bankrupts were required to wear a distinctive uniform of brown and yellow until they had paid their debts. The aim was to prevent them obtaining credit from unsuspecting tradesmen, although the law was usually enforced only when the bankrupt was also guilty of criminal fraud.

Drunkards fared little better. In the 17th century in England and other parts of Northern Europe, they were sometimes made to walk around dressed in a wooden barrel that had a hole in top for the head, and two holes in the sides for the hands. The idea behind the so-called drunkard's cloak was to shame the victim into sobriety.

Smokers in the 17th century sometimes suffered the worst fate of all. Tsar Michael of Russia hated the habit so much that he decreed the bastinado (beating the soles of the feet with a stick) for a first offence, a slit nose for a second, and death for the third. Around the same time, the Sultan of Turkey found the tobacco habit so offensive that he ordered snuff takers to have their lips slit, and smokers to be hanged - with a pipe shoved through their nose.

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