In the 1950’s it was (apparently) almost impossible to sit on a train in the UK without sitting next to someone puffing away on a cigarette (or pipe in first class), so it may come as some surprise to realize that one of the earliest bastions of anti-smoking was in fact the railway companies.

In June 1865, the General Manager of the Great Western Railway (GWR) issued an order banning smoking on all company properties – including on its trains. This was not a popular decision though, as a lot of people considered smoking to be a healthy activity.

Indeed, according to Punch Magazine, in 1868 Robert Smith addressed the Social Science Congress on the ‘evils produced by the non-consumption of smoke’, and suggests that railway companies could solve this problem by establishing ‘smoking carriages’.

Responding to public pressure, the UK Parliament passed a law (Railway Regulation Bill) in October 1868 which forced the railway companies to provide a number of designated smoking carriages on all journeys. The GWR still tried to ban smoking on platforms and would only provide the absolute minimum number of smoking carriages as required by law, and in the worst positions (typically one right behind the engine and another at the very end of the train).

However, over time the general public smoked in increasing numbers until the idea of a smoking carriage simply ceased to be valid as all carriages were for smokers, and indeed – trains started to designate some carriages as “special” – for non-smokers. But then, slowly the tide turned and eventually we had fewer and fewer smoking carriages until we returned back to the way things were in the 1870s – just without the reliability on the railway – and just one or two carriages permitted smoking.

Parliament passed a law a couple of years ago to make smoking in train carriages illegal – a complete reversal of the situation in the 1860’s when Parliament had legislated to force companies to allow smoking.

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