When I Read About the Evils of Smoking, I Gave Up Reading

Groucho Marx? Henry G. Strauss? Phil Harris? Joe E. Lewis? Anonymous?

Topic: Smoking? Drinking?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of jokes about smoking, drinking, and reading. The quips certainly do not reflect the actions of role models, but they are funny:

  • When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.
  • He read so much about the ill effects of smoking that he gave up – reading!
  • When I read about the bad effects of drinking I decided to give up reading.
  • A man was so horrified by what he read about effects of smoking that he gave up reading.

When did this family originate? Were the initial gags about smoking or drinking?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in 1950. The topic of the quip was smoking, and the words were ascribed to a well-known comedy superstar: 1

Groucho Marx says he became disturbed over the effects of smoking, after reading an article on the subject, he gave up reading. (That’s right, not smoking. That’s Groucho.)

In 1954 a version of the joke was told in the Parliament of the United Kingdom where it was credited to Henry G. Strauss who later became Lord Conesford. Strictly speaking Strauss assigned the gag to an anonymous American: 2

As I listened to the hon. Baronets I could not help thinking of a story told to the House two weeks ago by my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. H. Strauss) about the American who was so horrified at what he had read in the newspapers about smoking that he gave up reading.

The comedic remark credited to Strauss was reported in North American papers, e.g., the Lethbridge Herald or Lethbridge, Alberta, 3 and the Big Spring Daily Herald of Big Spring, Texas. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When I Read About the Evils of Smoking, I Gave Up Reading

Notes:

  1. 1950 July 07, The Hartford Courant, Informing You by M. Oakley Stafford, Page 24, Column 1, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)
  2. 1954 March 10, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons, “CITY OF LONDON (VARIOUS POWERS) BILL (By Order)”, Speaking: Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington), HC Deb 10, volume 524, cc2306-61. (Accessed hansard.millbanksystems.com on 2012 September 19) link
  3. 1954 March 29, Lethbridge Herald, Sayings: [H. G. Strauss, Parliamentary Secretary, UK Board of Trade], Quote Page 4, Column 4, Lethbridge, Alberta. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1954 May 3, Big Spring Daily Herald, Around The Rim – The Herald Staff: At Least Sand Storms Give Us A Chance To See The Country, Quote Page 6, Column 6, Big Spring, Texas. (NewsArchive)