Monday, November 23, 2009

American Indians were the first to use tobacco

When did people start smoking tobacco?

Tobacco was smoked in the Americas long before its organized cultivation began somewhere around 5000 to 3000 BC. Tobacco use was ceremonial and ritualistic for the natives with the leaf not only being smoked, but also chewed, drunk, taken as snuff and even given as enema. Tobacco was considered as a means of communicating with the supernatural world and was also believed to have medicinal properties. Mayans considered it a divine plant and many Mayan gods are depicted smoking. The name tobacco came from a misunderstanding of the Spaniards who thought the dried leaves were called tobacco when the indigenous name tabaco actually meant the tube or pipe in which the natives smoked the leaves. Tobacco was introduced in the court of Catherine de Medici in 1560 by Jean Nicot. The word nicotine was coined.

How did tobacco spread to the rest of the world?

Following the 'discovery' of America by Columbus in 1492, tobacco smoking reached Europe from where it spread to the rest of the world. From Europe, smoking spread to the Ottoman empire and from there to Asia and Africa. Arabs took to tobacco in the form of hookah, which spread throughout Persia (Iran) and into India and then into China, south-east Asia and Africa by the end of the 17th century. By the mid 19th century, smoking tobacco had become prevalent throughout the world.

Why did tobacco become so popular?

When tobacco came to Europe it was believed to have many therapeutic properties, but was just as popular for the general sense of well being and feeling of comfort and ease it gave. In the late 16th century, a Spanish doctor claimed that tobacco alleviated hunger, acted as a relaxant and a painkiller and was even a cure for cancer. It was also believed to help treat syphilis which was spreading rapidly. However, it was the perception of tobacco as an elite and fashionable past time indulged in by the aristocrats and rulers that helped it spread faster. Tobacco consumption changed from just pipe smoking to cigars, snuff and chewing.

Why was tobacco banned in many places?

Ottoman Sultan Murad IV (1623-40) is believed to be among the first to ban smoking as it was seen as a threat to morals and health. In China, the Chongzen emperor (1627-44) of the Ming dynasty issued an edict prohibiting tobacco smoking. The following Manchu dynasty emperor also continued this prohibition. In 1634, the Patriarch of Moscow forbade the sale of tobacco and those caught smoking had their nostrils slit or were whipped severely. During the same time, papal bulls were issued against smoking and snuff. However, over time the church created a tobacco monopoly and forbade the distribution of anti-tobacco literature in its parishes. In England, James I condemned tobacco smoking calling it a barbarous custom. However, as prohibition was not successful in suppressing smoking, rulers turned to controlling the tobacco trade through state monopoly.

How did cigarettes become the dominant form of tobacco consumption?

Initially, cigarettes were a luxury item meant only for the urban elite of Europe as they were expensive and handmade. The cigarette rolling Bonsack machine, patented by the American James Bonsack in 1880 made it possible to mass-produce inexpensive cigarettes. American industrialist James Buchanan Duke founded the America Tobacco company (ATC) in 1890 and used this machine to manufacture cigarettes. In 1883, Henry Wills started using the machine in Britain. Cigarettes became big business with large companies churning out hundreds of billions of cigarettes every year. China National Tobacco Corporation became the largest cigarette company in the world. There was a public outcry as minor boys started taking to smoking. However, the two World Wars stemmed criticism of young men smoking as soldiers found it easier to smoke cigarettes than pipes in the trenches and there was official recognition of tobacco helping to relieve the physical and psychological stress of war. By the mid 20th century smoking became an acceptable social behaviour.

How did public opinion turn against cigarettes and smoking again?

In 1958, the British medical journal Lancet for the first time raised fears about the effect of smoking on health. By 1960, the British Medical Journal too published evidence of a link between lung cancer and smoking. In 1964 the US Surgeon General announced that smoking caused lung cancer and soon a law made it mandatory to carry the warning against smoking on every cigarette packet.

In UK, the government banned cigarette advertisements on television and by 1970 the US followed suit. Soon a series of restrictions on smoking followed. The 1990s saw a slew of restrictions on smoking and simultaneously the tobacco companies had several law suits filed against them. Finally, in 1998 tobacco company executives testified before the US Congress that nicotine is addictive and that smoking could cause lung cancer.

(Source: September 29, 2008 - An article posted in the India Times News)

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