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History of Smoking

Smoking tobacco was first common amongst many Native American cultures, particularly the Plans Indians of North America. Whilst Europeans did not smoke the plant until the enlightenment era discovery of the New World, Mayan art depicts the smoking of tobacco as early as 1500 years ago. They also utilised the plant as a snuff to be chewed, a common medicine and an ingredient in religious affairs such as the creation of magical talismans and sacrifices to the gods.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus, commonly associated with Europe’s initial discovery of the Americas, was in fact not the one to introduce the continent to the phenomenon of smoking. Whilst in 1492 he was gifted “certain dry leaves” by the Arawak Indians, he failed to understand their significance, throwing them away. Two Spaniards, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, were the first European explorers to actually observe the Natives smoking these leaves, and Jerez continued the practice when he returned home.

Even in the beginning, smoking was considered a terrible habit in Europe. Jerez was reported to the Spanish Inquisition for the devilish appearance of smoke coming from his mouth and nostrils, and imprisoned for seven years. In his absence, smoking was popularised anyway, particularly amongst sailors. The travels of these sailors introduced tobacco smoking to France in 1559, as well as England in the 1560s. As its popularity grew amongst European society, opposition to the habit also rose. James I of England wrote on the sinfulness of ruining one’s health by smoking, condemning the practice not only in word but in deed with huge tax hikes on imports of tobacco. Pope Urban VIII banned smoking in churches in 1642, whilst the Swiss banned it altogether in 1657. In China, anti-smoking sentiment was so strong amongst the establishment that anyone caught could be decapitated.

A pattern of falling in and out of favour would follow for smoking. Tobacco became popular in rural Europe during the 30 Years War and again in England in the 1820s with the advent of the cigar. Cigarettes appeared in Spain in 1828, though did not impact the rest of Europe until the cheap cigarettes could be mass produced by the mechanical manufacturing process. Yet the establishment again turn their nose up to smoking, Queen Victoria especially hating it, until her successor gave his seal of approval to the pastime he enjoyed himself, turning the tide again in smoking’s favour. However, his grandson King George VI would die of lung cancer at the age of 56, young for a monarch, becoming a high profile victim of the dangers of smoking that were gradually becoming apparent.

The first scientists to note that smoking caused a large increase in the chances of developing lung cancer were the Nazis. In the 1930s, Germany was gripped by a powerful anti-smoking movement, intricately wrapped up in the political party controlling the nation. Hitler particularly disapproved of smoking. His scientists backed up his concerns, finding that tobacco use was “the single most important cause of the rising incidence of lung cancer”, and his propaganda machine took time out from their more subversive activities to launch a campaign promoting abstinence from smoking during pregnancy; an approach encouraged strongly today in Western countries.

The United States also began to notice the trend collating smoking with ill health around this time. However, serious moves to curb tobacco usage were not taken up until the 1950s, when medical bodies and the government began campaigning to reduce smoking by highlighting the damage it caused to public health. In response, filter-tip cigarettes were introduced, becoming the standard form as they produce less poisonous chemicals when compared to older types. Other measures, such as producing less potent compositions of cigarettes, were also attempted, though these proved unpopular as they did not sufficiently satisfy the cravings regular cigarettes had created. Tobacco advertising is banned or heavily restricted in many regions of the world, and tobacco products usually are labeled with stern warnings, such is the strength of evidence of smokings detriments.

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