History of Tobacco

Historical backdrop:

The tobacco plant is native to North and South America, therefore the peoples who lived there were the first to discover and use it. The name comes from the word “tabaco” which was a word for pipe, which the American Indians used for sniffing .

Although there is no proof which peoples were the first, many things suggest that Indians have been the first to discover and use the plant for various purposes including: smoking, medicine, religious, ceremonial purposes, as well as for trading (as money). It was believed that it was the cure for many diseases (cold, fever, body ills, and other), and it was also used as a painkiller.

Because it was considered as a gift from the Creator, the smoke was considered as a vessel for carrying the thoughts and prayers to the spiritual world. Because of its wide usage, it could be used for trading, and native peoples from North and South America used to carry it as a payment for goods and services. Today, many Indian tribes still use it for religious purposes, as a gift, and for other traditional practices.

isPeace pipe

After the Europeans discovered the New World (Americas), it was brought to Europe by the Spanish. The rest is history. Tobacco quickly spread to all parts of Europe, because it was believed (not just by the peoples from the New World, but by the Europeans also) to be a cure for many health problems, but it was also used for, of course smoking. As usual, governments wanted to profit from this new discovery and started taxing its usage. Some countries banned this herb, like Turkey (Ottoman Empire at that time), where one could be beheaded if one used it in any way (though this ban was short-lived). From Europe, conquerors, traders, travellers and explorers spread it to the rest of the world.

pltDrawing of the Plant from 1779

One of the most common usages was/is smoking. What we know today as a regular cigarette, is made of dried tobacco leaves which are encased in a thin paper (cylindrical form). It can be ignited and may smoulder from one side and its smoke can be easily puffed from the other side while holding it by mouth.

One of the predecessors of the cigarette is the cigar. Native Americans hand-rolled plant wrappers to create the cylindrical shape of the cigar. Other placement-holders at those times were used also. Many Europeans observed on their journeys how natives sniffed through their pipes.

The term that is cigarette came into existence in 1830 when it arrived in France and consequently in 1845 the first manufacturing commenced by a company that was monopoly owned by the French state. Since then, the manufacturing grew every year. As it was profitable, many people entered the business. Soon after, James Albert Bonsack created the first cigarette-making machine allowing for much increased productivity, and the manufacturing exploded because the cigarette became cheaper and easier to produce in larger quantities.

The drawing of the machine – James Albert Bonsack

The substantial growth in USA occurred in the course of 20th century, when the per capita consumption was greatly increased. Unlike today, in early 20th century, advertisement was allowed and the cigarette companies made creative advertising to attract consumers. This fuelled the growth in the number of users. As the industry was growing, scientists started questioning the safety and the influence on the health of users. Several statistics pointed at links between smoking and cancer. The medical practitioners in Germany were the first to address these links between smoking and the subsequent ailment which was lung cancer.

The industry responded by creating the Tobacco Institute in the 1950s, with the goal of addressing the health risks associated with this product. The result was creating new products with filters and reduced tar. The politicians were lobbied and the public was duped (with the help of marketing) into thinking that this is “healthier” smoke (not really). Sales were back on track of strong growth.

However, this was not to last long. More and more analysis was done, and more and more evidence was found regarding the health-risks associated with this activity. Then, a report named “Smoking and Health” of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States came showing clearly the health-risks associated (even with filters and low tar). This report is considered a landmark in the history of tobacco because it profoundly affected both the producers and the consumers, not just in United States of America, but also in many other countries.

It would never be the same for the industry. Soon after, various groups initiated campaigns of anti-tobacco movement and the government under political pressure responded. Almost every few years in many countries, new regulations and laws were passed to regulate and restrict smoking. In 1965, the Federal Cigarette Labelling and Advertising Act was passed by Congress, requiring manufacturers and importers to place pre-approved health-related warnings on the packages. Then, in 1971, all advertising related to this product was banned. Later on, it was completely banned on flights and public buses. In 1990s, the Tobacco Institute was dissolved as part of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which required the largest companies in the industry to settle the state medical lawsuits and pay annual payments for medical costs to the state governments.

Finally, in 2009 a law was passed (Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act) that allowed FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to regulate the industry. New products will have to be approved by FDA before putting them on sale. Also, new warnings and labels were imposed on packaging. This is the latest regulation (so far) that has come in power. With great certainty, it won’t be the last one.

The production is huge across the world; about 5.5 trillion of these products are manufactured and smoked by about 1 billion consumers each year.
Though the rate of smoking has dropped down to 20.8% from 42% in the year 2006, the percentage is increasing by 3.4% every year among the developing countries. Around 6 million people die each year from smoking-caused diseases.
As tobacco contains more than 4000 chemicals, there are some major health hazards that are caused by this addiction:

  • Cancer: One of the most hazardous diseases caused, for which there is no cure. Various types of cancers can develop in a smoker and the most common are: cancer targeting lungs, throat and almost any other part of the body.
  • Heart diseases: Nicotine causes a severe damage as it leads to increment in blood pressure. It even causes the vessels to narrow, and increases the chance of heart stroke.
  • Gastrointestinal disease: It leads to growth in production of acid in stomach which leads to ulcer and related problems.
  • Lungs: Chronic bronchitis, Asthma attack, Pneumonia and other.
  • Reduces overall health and harms almost every part of your body.
  • Second hand smoke: Users that inhale the smoke from cigarettes are also exposed to the same health-risk as those that smoke. More than six hundred thousand non-smokers worldwide die each year only from second hand smoke. What that means that smoking around your family members,¬† friends or anyone else¬† could cause significant damage to their health.