Smoking Through the Ages

Since I am interested in the origin of things, I have recently been intrigued by the history of smoking. There is still debate in modern times. Perhaps it is best to reflect on its history. I presume that all cultures have smoked throughout time, although it is in the form of plants or tobacco. It fascinates me that the practice is universal and has evolved to a sophisticated, although harmful, pastime. I know people constantly complain about the smell if they are nonsmokers. I presume this was irrelevant in the past.

Tobacco grew in the wilds for nearly 8,000 years in the Americas. Thousands of years later, it began to be chewed and smoked during religious ceremonies. Anthropologists have blatant evidence of this fact. A huge transformation in the cultural implications came when smoking was discovered by none other than Christopher Columbus. After it was cultivated in Europe around 1531, its use spread wildly across the continent and England. It became a monetary standard for a century. A new industry was born whose popularity exists worldwide to this day. No doubt smokers always enjoyed the smell, and so I decided to look into the science of it, guided by this blog post.

It is amazing that as early as 1602, ill health was associated with tobacco. An essay on chimney sweepers told the tale of harm caused by soot and smoking. In the late 18th century, cancers of the lip were noticed in heavy pipe smokers. More medical dangers were described so long ago. We know that the association of smoking and respiratory problems was made in the 1920s. Lung cancer had found its origin. Because of the power of the tobacco industry, the media kept quiet. Not until the 50s and 60s was this link made public.

Old timers remember the first cigarette-making machines in the late 1800s. This marks the early mass production which blossomed as time went on resulting in the coin operated boxes that were ubiquitous. Marketing by the big tobacco companies came in the form of extensive advertising.

Smoking was prevalent until mid-century despite the smell and health consequences. Anti-tobacco groups made their point, particularly regarding children. The huge industry fought hard lobbying political parties. It became a stalemate until after the world wars because of the policy of giving cigarettes to allied troops. As knowledge grew, the practice started to taper off culminating in the local ban on smoking in public places and restaurants. Passive or second-hand smoking was attacked by legislatures. Now it’s common to read passive aggressive Facebook posts when there’s someone smoking where they shouldn’t be. The interests of the tobacco industry were set aside as lawsuits accumulated with extremely deadly consequences.

The industry did not give up easily however and made up for its losses by promoting cigarettes in third-world countries – Africa, Asia, and the Middle East – where smoking laws did not exist and political interest is weak. Russia and Latin America soon followed as marketing targets.