In the Beginning:
Tobacco was first discovered by Christopher Columbus on October 15th, 1492 when he was gifted tobacco leaves by American Indians. Although the use of tobacco existed even before Columbus landed in America, it is said that tobacco use was very common in North and South America by the natives. The history of tobacco did not start with cigarettes, as the natives mostly smoked tobacco in pipes in huge amounts for the ritual purposes, and it also was believed to have medicinal values. Later the tobacco plant was largely traded in Europe and the rest of the world.
Tobacco is a native plant of North America belonging to a family of pepper, potato and nightshades. Tobacco is believed to have some medicinal values and it was commonly used to dress wounds as it worked as a pain killer. Chewing of tobacco is also thought to have helped in relieving teeth and gum pain. The major reason for the flourish of tobacco in Europe was because it had medicinal properties. However, very little was known about the harmful effects of smoking tobacco back then.
In 1571, Nicolas Monerdes mentioned in his book that tobacco could cure 36 health problems including cancer, but this was far from the truth from the recent history of tobacco. A doctor by the name of ‘Thomas Harriet’ also promoted smoking tobacco as a daily dose, but unfortunately he died of nose cancer. But as for recreational purpose tobacco became so famous among traders that they started using tobacco as money equivalent to gold.
Popular beliefs found in the tobacco history:
It is believed that tobacco can cause hallucination when consumed in large amount. It is said that tobacco was consumed for ritual purposes which enabled the elders of the tribe to communicate with their Gods. They even had pipe festivals where tobacco is smoked by the natives during celebrations. Due to its sacred nature, tobacco abuse was largely frowned upon by the tribes of Canada. They believed that if someone abused the use of tobacco, such as chain smoking, the tobacco would in turn abuse the person causing serious sickness sometimes death. This may be cancer, which they most probably believed to be a curse from their native God. Tobacco history is pretty much vague on how the use actually started, but some records show that tobacco did exist from 6000 B.C.
Impact of westernization on history of tobacco usage:
Tobacco was slowly westernization over time and tobacco was used as recreational material that was consumed through pipes and cigars and now in the form of: cigarettes, khaini, jharda, gutka and many more. By 1610 sir Francis bacon realized the harmful effects of tobacco and also how difficult it was to quit smoking tobacco. In 1632, smoking of tobacco in public places was made illegal in Massachusetts (USA), as there was more concern about the moral beliefs than the harmful effects of tobacco.
By 1760, history of tobacco has shown that it became a famous recreational and highly consumable material that was fairly popular. Lorillard was established and became the biggest tobacco processing company in New York. Tobacco industries started to flourish during this time and more scientists started experimenting on the harmful effects of tobacco. In 1826, nicotine was discovered by a scientist which was declared to be a very dangerous drug that was very poisonous and could kill a man. In 1847, hand rolled Turkish tobacco was sold and soldiers started buying cigars and cigarettes from the Russians and Turkish soldiers. The leftover of tobacco processing was used as chewing tobacco, which became famous among the cowboys of America. However popular tobacco was becoming, there were some anti-tobacco campaigns to ban tobacco completely, but eventually they failed.
Soldiers started buying tobacco in large quantities and cigarettes were called as soldier’s smoke. During Second World War between 1939 to 1945, free cigarettes were sent to soldiers by an American company, thus making the home coming soldiers became a loyal customer to these cigarette companies.
During 1980s, history of tobacco has shown that many laws were introduced to ban smoking in public places due to its harmful effects and slowly smoking became a politically incorrect habit. By 1982, Tobacco history took a drastic change as there was actually no medicinal value, but the pain relief effects were for a very short time only. It was then documented that tobacco started causing lung cancer at a much higher rate, surpassing even the frequency of breast cancer in women.
A Relation between ‘mortality to smoking’ was made by doctors for 50 years from 1951 to 2001. It was found that there was a decrease in the death rates among non-smokers over the past 50 years due to prevention and improved treatment of disease. Among cigarette smokers there has been an increase in the death rate ratio due to more intensive use of cigarettes than irregular smokers. Among the men born around 1920, prolonged cigarette smoking from early adult life had tripled the mortality rates, but at the age of 50, hazards are reduced to half. Yet it must be known that smoking can cause severe hazards to some, and for those not suffering from a serious illness, short-ness of breath, bronchitis and asthma were some of the common symptoms associated with smoking tobacco. Learn more about the harmful effect of smoking here.
Overall, the history of tobacco does show that tobacco use has had a fair share of criticism, but it was also known to be highly popular in many countries as well.
Smoking Mortality: 50 years observations – British Medical Journal – by Richard Doll, Richard Peto, Jillian Boreham, and Isabelle Sutherland – 2004
Mortality of Doctors in Smoking Habits – British Medical Journal – by Richard Doll, A. Bradford Hill – 1954