Today’s youngsters might be a little shocked to see professional athletes promoting cigarettes, but it wasn’t too long ago I’d when I’d see the occasional bicycle racer grab a smoke and take a long drag immediately after crossing the finish line.
Cecil Yates was a professional six-day racer in Chicago, IL in the 1930s and was considered the fastest track sprinter of his time. The winner of the six day race was the athlete who completed the most laps around an indoor track in six days. Yes, of course they doped, using a combination of nitroglycerin, cocaine, and amphetamines to stay awake and finish this grueling contest.
After race horses started dropping dead from the same cocktail, their trainers switched to strychnine because it was thought to be safer. Some bike racers who were concerned about their long term health followed suit, but there was less incentive because human life is less costly than a valuable race horse. You can’t get stud fees from a winning athlete.
Yates and many other racers smoked to calm their chemically juiced nerves after the race.
Though some preachers and assorted do-gooders had been railing against tobacco since the 17th Century, the link between smoking and tobacco smoke was just getting noticed by physicians in the 1930s. Before World War I, lung cancer was an extraordinarily rare disease. With the rise in popularity of smoking after the War came an epidemic of lung cancer. It wasn’t until 1950, however, that studies showing a strong link between lung cancer and smoking were performed and published.