I Have Made It a Rule Never To Smoke More Than One Cigar at a Time

Mark Twain? Elbert Hubbard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain followed two thoughtful guidelines regarding smoking:

  • Never smoke more than one cigar at a time.
  • Never smoke while sleeping.

Would you please determine when he enunciated these rules?

Quote Investigator: In 1905 Mark Twain celebrated his seventieth birthday at the popular New York restaurant Delmonico’s. The participants delivered numerous speeches and poems lauding Twain as reported in the “New York Tribune”. The famous humorist addressed the subject of his longevity: 1

I have achieved my seventy years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else. I will offer here, as a sound maxim, this: that we can’t reach old age by another man’s road.

I will now teach, offering my way of life to whomsoever desires to commit suicide by the scheme which has enabled me to beat the doctor and the hangman for seventy years.

Twain outlined his dietary regimen and then discussed smoking. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time. I do not know just when I began to smoke, I only know that it was in my father’s lifetime, and that I was discreet. He passed from this life early in 1847, when I was a shade past eleven; ever since then I have smoked publicly. As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake.

Twain employed these two jokes and helped to popularize them, but instances occurred before 1905.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The quip about disallowing concurrent cigar consumption was circulating without attribution by 1882. Hence, it is possible that Twain did not craft this joke. Several U.S. newspapers published a set of New Year’s Resolutions for 1882 that included the following: 2

I will quit reading the morning papers at the breakfast table.

I will quit smoking. Immoderately, that is. I will only smoke one cigar at a time.

I will light a cigar every time I see a sign, “No smoking allowed,” as an assertion of my rights as a citizen of a free republic.

In 1887 a journalist in El Dorado, Kansas investigated the tobacco use of local citizens and employed an instance of the sleeping jest. Here “chews” referred to chewing tobacco: 3

. . . Judge Hamilton tried to smoke once in Iowa, twenty years ago and couldn’t; Dan Boyden neither chews or smokes—when asleep; George Wesley Tolle both chews and smokes . . .

In 1905 Twain delivered a birthday speech in New York that included two jokes about cigars as mentioned previously.

In 1909 Elbert Hubbard published “The Doctors: A Satire in Four Seizures” which included a joke instance. Hubbard was the charismatic founder of a New York artisan community who enjoyed collecting and creating adages. In the following passage two patients are speaking: 4

Mrs. X—He ate too much, and smoked too much and did not exercise enough.

Karl McCullough—No gentleman should smoke more than one cigar at a time.

Mark Twain visited the Flatiron store in New York which was part of The United Cigar Stores Company, and the proprietor John J. Flaherty 5 knew Twain well enough to visit him at his home. Flaherty described some of the colorful tales Twain shared with him including the following: 6

“Yes, smoking is a great thing,” he went on. “I once told an old lady who seemed anxious about my smoking that the only thing I regretted was that I could smoke only one cigar at a time.

The text above was published in December 1910 after the death of Twain in April 1910. QI does not know precisely when Flaherty visited Twain and heard this version of the quip.

In 1913 Elbert Hubbard published a self-improvement article titled “Three Big Words!—Reciprocity, Mutuality, Co-operation”: 7

There are bigger markets than the world ever before offered, and there is bigger pay for the man who can eliminate the grouch, get rid of his grab instincts, and regulate his gobble and guzzle. That is, don’t over-eat, don’t over-drink, smoke one cigar at a time, think well of everybody, especially yourself.

In 1914 an advertisement for a cigar seller in a Connellsville, Pennsylvania attributed the quip about sleeping to Twain: 8

Mark Twain on being asked how many cigars he smoked in a day answered that he never kept books on his habits, but he always observed two rules in smoking:

First, never to smoke while sleeping, and
Second, to smoke nothing but a pure tobacco cigar.

In 1916 a newspaper in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania printed a short article containing both jokes attributed to Twain by a Harvard professor: 9

“Regimens! Regimens!” said Prof. Hilary McMasters before the Harvard Medical school. “There are too many nonsensical regimens, young gentlemen. I prefer the regimen of Mark Twain to all such rubbish.

“Mark had a very strict regimen, you know. He never smoked but one cigar at a time, and never smoked while sleeping.

“He never ate meat except with his meals, and he never drank except at meals and between meals.

In conclusion, Mark Twain should receive acknowledgement for the words he spoke in 1905. However, versions of the two jests about smoking were already in circulation by the 1880s. Twain was an important popularizer of these jests, but based on current evidence he was not the originator of idea behind either.

Image Notes: Portrait of Mark Twain from the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of a cigar, tobacco leaves, and a glass of whiskey from annca at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Jill Pinnella Corso whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Corso asked about a different quotation attributed to Twain concerning food and diet, but the research led to these remarks about smoking.)


  1. 1905 December 6, New-York Tribune, Dinner for Mark Twain: To Mark 70th Birthday, Quote Page 7, Column 3, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1882 January 12, Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, New Year’s Resolutions, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Burlington, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1887 December 23, Walnut Valley Times, (Untitled article), Quote Page 3, Column 3, El Dorado, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1909, The Doctors: A Satire in Four Seizures by Elbert Hubbard, Quote Page 51, Published by The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1909 July, The United Shield, Volume 6, Number 6, About J. J. F., Quote Page 3, Column 2, United Cigar Stores Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  6. 1910 December 9, Arkansas Democrat, Mark Twain as a Smoker, Quote Page 11, Column 4, Little Rock, Arkansas. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1913 November 1, Telephony: The American Telephone Journal, Volume 65, Number 18, Three Big Words!—Reciprocity, Mutuality, Co-operation by Elbert Hubbard, Start Page 47, Quote Page 47, Column 2, Published by The Telephony Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  8. 1914 October 15, The Daily Courier, (Advertisement for cigar seller E. J. Enos of Connellsville, Pennsylvania), Quote Page 3, Column 7, Connellsville, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1916 September 14, The Fulton County News, His Regimen, Quote Page 7, Column 7, McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)