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A Growing Problem

To the best of our knowledge, it would seem that Tobacco and the smoking of it has been around since 5000 or 6000 BC in the Americas. Perhaps even earlier in the Andes. We do know that around 1000 BC, the Mayans were smoking and chewing the tobacco leaves. Not only did they use the tobacco plant for recreational use, they included the leaves in different ratios and mixtures as remedies for ailments, wounds and other health related issues. Which seems ironic these days, when we have been told for decades how harmful tobacco is for us.
As the Mayans dispersed and populated different areas, such as North and South America, they took with them their precious tobacco leaves and plants.
Chances are, though, that people were smoking it before they took the trouble to specifically grow and cultivate it. Another likely explanation lies with the practices of herbalists within South American tribes. These people knew their plants. They had to; otherwise, the mushrooms or unidentified berries would have killed them off long ago. The healers and shamans entrusted with curing people often went through rigorous training. They learned not only what their predecessors knew, but also how to identify relationships among plants and how to test new plants. Their knowledge of vegetation covered not only identification and common uses, but also how to dry, steep, grind and mix those plants to form healing substances. It’s not unlikely that the first healers ground up tobacco, sniffed it and realized just how good it would be if they burned it.

Accidents Happen

Hundreds of years later, we find some of the world’s greatest European explorers having encounters with tobacco which many of them later brought back to the new world. Columbus was probably the first European to see tobacco leaves, although he never smoked them himself.
Another fellow explorer, Rodrigo de Jerez, shortly after, landed in Cuba and watched, fascinated as some of the inhabitants smoked the tobacco leaves. He, unlike Columbus, did enjoy lighting up with the natives.
On his return to Spain, laden with heaps of tobacco, Jerez startled his fellow countrymen by smoking in front of them. Never in their lives had they seen a man with smoke coming out of his mouth and nose. Many people thought that he was possessed by the devil and he was not only questioned by the Spanish Inquisition, they imprisoned him for several years. During his imprisonment, smoking actually became quite popular in Spain. Why wouldn’t it?
In the 1500s, Europeans saw the potential profit in tobacco, and decided to make their own wealth from the cultivation of this popular plant. After colonizing areas of the Caribbean they began to establish large tobacco growing areas, and then exported all the tobacco back to Europe. Where the demand continued to grow.

Through The Years

It is widely held that Sir Francis Drake was the first man to bring a consignment of tobacco into the United Kingdom in 1573. Although it was Sir Walter Raleigh who later went on to make tobacco smoking popular in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.
During 1586, Sir Walter Raleigh embarked on a trip to the Americas where he met Ralph Lane, the then Governor of Virginia. Lane introduced Raleigh to the pleasures of smoking a clay pipe, which was a popular pastime in that area.
A year later, a number of colonists who had previously left England to settle in Virginia, returned to their homeland and introduced the fashion of smoking clay pipes into English society. Over the years many English families travelled to Virginia to settle in order to try and make a wealthy living from growing tobacco in the plantations there. Many tobacco dynasties were formed that would last on through the American Civil War and some, far longer.
Pipe smoking also gradually achieved popularity in several other European countries, including Spain and France.
As the love of tobacco spread, people became more and more creative with ways to enjoy this plant as well as make a profit from it. James I imposed the first tax on tobacco in 1604. In 1830, the South American “papelate” was introduced and began to be used by more and more smokers.
Then came the introduction of cigarette making machines, which at the time produced about 200 cigarettes a minute, the tobacco industry began to grow and grow.
While cigarettes were now being mass-produced, they became more readily available and affordable to a wider range of people.
It makes sense that the tobacco companies would market young men going to war. And at first it was mainly the soldiers who became hooked on smoking. Cigarettes were often given as ‘morale boosters’ to help stave off boredom and settle nerves during lulls in the fighting.
By the start of the Second World War, President Roosevelt made tobacco a protected crop. There were eventually shortages of tobacco in both America and England, as packets and packets of cigarettes were being sent to the troops fighting in the war.
During both World Wars, smoking cigarettes became immensely popular. After the war was over, the soldiers went back home and introduced cigarettes to their families, colleagues and friends which only strengthened the growing trend.
This trend spread steadily through the years, making smoking so commonplace that no one gave it a second thought.

Now And Then

By the 60s, smoking was everywhere and the 70s saw it flourish even more. Women, men, old, young, working, going to school, everyone was smoking. You could smoke in hospitals, pharmacies, bars, theatres, pretty much any and everywhere.
Then we began hearing different stories. Healthcare officials began to warn against tobacco and connect the use of it to cancer. Over the next few decades, we found out more and more reasons why we shouldn’t smoke and laws were put into place which banned ads from tobacco companies on television, radio and other places where they once ruled.
In 2004, Ireland became the first country to ban smoking in public places, Scotland soon followed and by 2007, England too had joined the ban.

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