Manuel Serrano Piqueras (1878-1972) obtained the title of ‘Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery’ in 1901, signed by the regent, queen María Cristina on behalf of her son, Alfonso XIII. His grandson, also Dr. Manuel Serrano González, a specialist in Digestive Diseases, has exposed him at his clinic in Jaen. Next to the academic title is his grandfather’s doctoral thesis, entitled ‘Tobacco and the organism’, probably one of the first theses that warned of the effects of smoking, if not the first.
He read it on June 12, 1911 at the Royal College of San Carlos, in Madrid, before a court of professors of the School of Medicine of the then Universidad Central de Madrid. The thesis, which was printed in Tipografía La Unión de Jaén (located on 18 Alamos Street), although outdated today in some aspects, is an interesting document detailing the damages from tobacco use that were already observed.
Don Manuel worked as an internal medicine doctor in Madrid hospitals and directly knew the ravages caused by tobacco. He suffered them himself because he smoked from 10 to 30 years old. «Chest pains warned me of the danger I was in,» he came to recognize. «I noticed that by body broke down to the point that I didn’t have any organ that worked normally. Then I convinced myself that I had not been a complete man until I quitted smoking ».
In 1946 he founded and chaired the Spanish League of Non-Smokers (la Liga de No Fumadores de España) and was a promoter of the World Anti-Smoking Fight. «The vice of the cigarette should never have been admitted to society as a tolerated custom. Introduced, it is now more difficult to remove it,” he said in the middle of the last century.
In 1953 he published ‘Smoking or blue plague’, with the title ‘What science says’, which is a nearly 400-page compendium on the subject, and in which he dissects “cancer in tobacco users”. In addition to talking about history and synonymy, its main chapter is dedicated to what it calls ‘Modalities of poisoning’, such as ‘acute and chronic intoxication’, the influence of smoking on the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, nervous, urinary and reproductive systems, as well as in inheritance and in the ‘sense organs’, its relation to thinness and ‘the habit of tobacco and sports’.
The book goes even further and addresses ‘the social aspect of smoking’, coming to relate it to ‘civic and moral relaxation’. It contains sections of relevance today such as the one entitled ‘How smokers make us all victims of tobacco’, and it even goes into economic aspects related to smoking: ‘Smoking and vested interests’.
On the damage that tobacco has for non-smokers, he said this in the magazine me “Digame”’:« Due to culture, the cigarette will disappear from social life. It is intolerable that in transport, for example, smokers force us to breathe in their cigarette smoke».
He directed the magazine ‘Hygiene Pieces’, which he sold for between 1.25 and 2 pesetas. An example from 1947 expeditiously called it ‘Barbarism and civilization, leveled by tobacco’; and he illustrated his cover with a drawing of three people smoking lying on the floor, one with ape-like features, another of a modern man and a third, a woman wearing a bathing suit and heels smoking with a long mouthpiece. He even published ‘Booklets to quit smoking and detoxify’, almost a century before the current proliferation of methods to quit.
In 1949, he was asked the following question in the Pueblo newspaper: ‘Do you think the League of Non-smokers will banish tobacco? «Unquestionably,» Dr. Piqueras replied.
Don Manuel passed away in 1972 without winning any of his battles … Now, time has ended up proving him right.
In March 2014, the National Committee for Smoking Prevention (CNPT) and Nofumadores.org association honored Dr. Serrano Piqueras as a precursor to the movement that, one hundred years after the doctor presented his doctoral thesis, would lead to regulations that, in order to preserve public health, would veto the consumption of tobacco in all closed and some open public spaces, as well as prohibit its advertising, promotion and sponsorship in all media.
Dr. Serrano Piqueras was a scientist ahead of his time who, despite fighting against norms and with the misunderstanding of most of society at the time, managed to gather more than 5,000 members in the League of Non-smokers in Spain, a total success at that moment.
The CNPT and Nofumadores.org, heirs of the scientific-medical and social-citizen aspects of the work of Dr. Serrano Piqueras, paid tribute and delivered a commemorative plaque to his son, Mr. Juan Serrano Peña, who delivered his father’s digitized legacy documentary for free dissemination to anyone who may be interested in his work: