Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

Freak Smoking Ban Overturned


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Freak Smoking Ban Overturned


A massive public protest against a state smoking ban forced the Utah Legislature to overturn the law in 1923.

Debates about the sale of cigarettes and smoking in public venues are hardly new to the Beehive State. In 1923, a determined crowd of Utah citizens packed the Orpheum Theater in downtown Salt Lake City to voice their objection to Utah's law banning smoking in public places. The meeting was spurred by the arrest of four prominent Utah businessmen on the charge of smoking after-dinner cigars in a local restaurant. One of the men detained was Ernest Bamberger, former senatorial candidate and member of the National Republican Committee.

The poorly-enforced law had passed two years previously, but the new arrests led to a public outcry that soon caught national attention. Critics claimed the cigarette ban violated personal liberty and gave rise to bootlegging. Calling for the law’s repeal, one speaker at the Orpheum Theater meeting argued that, "Utah... is being ridiculed from ocean to ocean and from Canada to the Gulf... because of its freak legislation."

It was not long before the Utah Legislature responded to the public uproar over the unpopular law. Their debate may sound familiar. Some wanted to prohibit advertising to prevent young people from being tempted by tobacco. Another proposal to divide restaurants into smoking and non-smoking sections was voted down after lawmakers learned of a Salt Lake establishment that had tried such a division, but found that no one wanted to dine in the non-smoking area. Within a month, lawmakers overturned the smoking ban and passed legislation to permit the licensed sale of cigarettes and the limited advertising of tobacco. The final bill passed by a wide margin in the House and without discussion in the Senate.

Utahns made themselves heard in 1923, although lawmakers passed another ban against smoking in public places more than 70 years later. This time, concerns about the danger of second-hand smoke prevented anyone calling the 1995 ban "freak" legislation.


Megan van Frank for Utah Humanities © 2011


Image: Photo showing a cartoon of a man being threatened with prosecution for smoking in Utah. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

See W. Paul Reeve, “Cigarette Ban of the 1920s Caused an Uproar,” History Blazer, February 1995, accessed via http://historytogo.utah.gov; John S. H. Smith, “Cigarette Prohibition in Utah, 1921-1923,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 41, Fall 1973, pp 358-72.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org