History of tobacco

Tobacco has a long history from its usages in the early Americas. increasingly popular with the arrival of Spain to America, which introduced tobacco to the Europeans by whom it was heavily traded. Following the industrial revolution, cigarettes were becoming popularized in the New World as well as Europe, which fostered yet another unparalleled increase in growth. This remained so until scientific studies in the mid-1900s demonstrated the negative health effects of tobacco smoking including lung and throat cancer.

Early history

Tobacco was first discovered by the native people of Mesoamerica and South America and later introduced to Europe and the rest of the world.

Tobacco had already long been used in the Americas by the time European settlers arrived and introduced the practice to Europe, where it became popular. Eastern North American tribes have historically carried tobacco in pouches as a readily accepted trade item, as well as smoking it in pipe ceremonies, whether sacred ceremonies or those to seal a treaty or agreement.[1][2] Tobacco is considered a gift from the Creator, and tobacco smoke is seen as carrying one's thoughts and prayers to the spirits.[3]

In addition to its use in spiritual ceremonies, tobacco is also used in ethnobotany for medical treatment of physical conditions. As a pain killer it has been used for earache and toothache and occasionally as a poultice. Some indigenous peoples in California have used tobacco as one ingredient in smoking mixtures for treating colds; usually it is mixed with the leaves of the small desert sage, Salvia dorrii, or the root of Indian balsam or cough root, Leptotaenia multifida (the addition of which was thought to be particularly good for asthma and tuberculosis).[4] In addition to its traditional medicinal uses, tobacco was also used as a form of currency between Native Americans and Colonists from the 1620s on.[5]

Religious use of tobacco is still common among many indigenous peoples, particularly in the Americas. Among the Cree and Ojibwe of Canada and the north-central United States, it is offered to the Creator, with prayers, and is used in sweat lodges, pipe ceremonies, and is presented as a gift. A gift of tobacco is traditional when asking an Ojibwe elder a question of a spiritual nature. Because of its sacred nature, tobacco abuse (thoughtlessly and addictively chain-smoking) is seriously frowned upon by many tribes, as it is believed that if one so abuses the plant, it will abuse that person in return, causing sickness. The proper and traditional native way of offering the smoke is said to involve directing it toward the four cardinal points (north, south, east, and west), rather than holding it deeply within the lungs for prolonged periods.[6]

European usage

The earliest image of a man smoking a pipe, from Tabaco by Anthony Chute.

Las Casas vividly described how the first scouts sent by Columbus into the interior of Cuba found

men with half-burned wood in their hands and certain herbs to take their smokes, which are some dry herbs put in a certain leaf, also dry, like those the boys make on the day of the Passover of the Holy Ghost; and having lighted one part of it, by the other they suck, absorb, or receive that smoke inside with the breath, by which they become benumbed and almost drunk, and so it is said they do not feel fatigue. These, muskets as we will call them, they call tabacos. I knew Spaniards on this island of Española who were accustomed to take it, and being reprimanded for it, by telling them it was a vice, they replied they were unable to cease using it. I do not know what relish or benefit they found in it.[7]

Following the arrival of Europeans, tobacco became one of the primary products fueling colonization, and also became a driving factor in the incorporation of African slave labor. The Spanish introduced tobacco to Europeans in about 1528, and by 1533, Diego Columbus mentioned a tobacco merchant of Lisbon in his will, showing how quickly the traffic had sprung up. Nicot, French ambassador in Lisbon, sent samples to Paris in 1559. The French, Spanish, and Portuguese initially referred to the plant as the "sacred herb" because of its valuable medicinal properties.[7] In 1571, a Spanish doctor named Nicolas Monardes wrote a book about the history of medicinal plants of the new world. In this he claimed that tobacco could cure 36 health problems.[8]

Sir Walter Raleigh introduced "Virginia tobacco into England. "Raleigh's First Pipe in England", included in Frederick William Fairholt's Tobacco, its history and associations.

Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with taking the first "Virginia" tobacco to Europe, referring to it as tobah as early as 1578. In 1595 Anthony Chute published Tabaco, which repeated earlier arguments about the benefits of the plant and emphasised the health-giving properties of pipe-smoking.

The importation of tobacco into Europe was not without resistance and controversy in the 17th century. Stuart King James I wrote a famous polemic titled A Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604, in which the king denounced tobacco use as "[a] custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse." In that same year, an English statute was enacted that placed a heavy protective tariff on every pound of tobacco brought into England.[9]

The Japanese were introduced to tobacco by Portuguese sailors from 1542.

Tobacco first arrived in the Ottoman Empire in the late 16th century,[10] where it attracted the attention of doctors[11] and became a commonly prescribed medicine for many ailments. Although tobacco was initially prescribed as medicine, further study led to claims that smoking caused dizziness, fatigue, dulling of the senses, and a foul taste/odour in the mouth.[12]

A tobacco plantation in Queensland, in 1933.

Sultan Murad IV banned smoking in the Ottoman Empire in 1633, and the offense was punishable by death.[13] When the ban was lifted by his successor, Ibrahim the Mad, it was instead taxed. In 1682, Damascene jurist Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi declared: "Tobacco has now become extremely famous in all the countries of Islam ... People of all kinds have used it and devoted themselves to it ... I have even seen young children of about five years applying themselves to it."[14] In 1750, a Damascene townsmen observed "a number of women greater than the men, sitting along the bank of the Barada River. They were eating and drinking, and drinking coffee and smoking tobacco just as the men were doing."[14]

Tobacco smoking first reached Australian shores when it was introduced to northern-dwelling Indigenous communities by visiting Indonesian fishermen in the early 18th century. British patterns of tobacco use were transported to Australia along with the new settlers in 1788; and in the years following colonisation, British smoking behaviour was rapidly adopted by Indigenous people as well. By the early 19th century tobacco was an essential commodity routinely issued to servants, prisoners and ticket-of-leave men (conditionally released convicts) as an inducement to work, or conversely, withheld as a means of punishment.[15]

Economic History in the American Colonies

In America, gold and silver became scarce which made it harder for colonists to trade with Native Americans. The cultivation of tobacco in the Chesapeake area was essential to solving this problem. Without silver and gold to trade to the Indians, colonists traded tobacco for essential natural resources. This started in the 1620s.[5] Tobacco was also used as a currency in the colonies, used for paying fines, taxes, and even marriage licenses.[16]

The increasing demand for tobacco in Europe fueled the slave trade. In the colonies land was at a premium because tobacco required lots of land to cultivate. This created a problem for the institutionalized practice of indentured servitude. Indentured servants were promised land of various amounts in their contracts. This land became harder to part with due to tobacco.

The uncultivated Virginia soil was reportedly too rich for traditional European crops, especially cereals like barley. Tobacco "broke down the fields and made food crops more productive" by depleting the soil of nutrients.[17]

With the profitability of the land rapidly increasing, it no longer was economically viable to bring in indentured servants because were promised physical benefits at the end of their tenure. What the plantation owners wanted was workers who could legally not be paid and would be able to work long hours in the hot sun. Their conclusion was to turn to another instutionalized practice: slavery. The demand and profitability of tobacco led to the shift in the colonies to a slave based labor force. Tobacco is a labor-intensive crop, requiring lots of work for its cultivation, harvest, and curing. These tasks were carried out during the colonial period by slaves.

Tobacco's Impact on Early American History

The cultivation of Tobacco in America led to many changes. During the 1700s tobacco was a very lucrative crop due to its high demand in Europe. The climate of the Chesapeake area in America lent itself very nicely to the cultivation of tobacco. The high European demand for tobacco led to a rise in the value of tobacco. The rise of value of tobacco accelerated the economic growth in America. The cultivation of tobacco as a cash crop in America marks the shift from a subsistence economy to an agrarian economy. Tobacco’s desirability and value led to it being used as a currency in colonies. Tobacco was also backed by the gold standard which meant that there was an established conversion rate from tobacco to gold.

The increasing role of tobacco as a cash crop led to a shift in the labor force that would shape American life and politics up through the Civil war. In order to keep up with demand tobacco plantation owners had to abandon the traditional practice of indentured servitude in the Americas. In order to pursue maximum profits, the plantation owners turned to slavery to supply them with the cheap, fungible labor that they needed to keep up with increasing production.

Early Cultivation of Tobacco

In the first few years of tobacco cultivation in the colonies, the plants were simply covered with hay and left in the field to cure or "sweat." This method was abandoned after 1618, when regulations prohibited the use of valuable potential animal food for such purposes. It was also abandoned because a better method of curing tobacco had been developed. In this new method the wilted leaves were hung on lines or sticks, at first outside on fence rails. Tobacco barns for housing the crop were in use by the 1620s.[18]

During the curing period, The duration of which lasted about four and six weeks. The color of the tobacco changed from a greenish yellow to a light tan. Mold was an immense danger during this time. Once again, a planter relied on his experience to know when the tobacco was ready to removed from the sticks on which it hung, a process known as "striking."[18]

At last, when the tobacco was ready, and preferably during a period of damp weather, workers struck the tobacco and laid the leaves on the floor of the tobacco barn to sweat for somewhere between a week or two. Logs could be used to press the tobacco and increase its temperature, but with that there came a danger. The heat might become too intense and mold spoil the crop.[18]

After sweating, the next step was sorting. Ideally, all the tobacco should be in a condition described by cropmasters as "in case." This meant that the tobacco had absorbed just the right amount of moisture. Some of the characteristics of this ideal condition include the facts that it could be stretched like leather and was glossy and moist. If tobacco were too damp, it would rot in transit; if too dry, it would crumble and be unsalable.[18]

In the early years at Jamestown the settlers paid little heed to quality control, this attitude soon changed due to both the market and to regulations. Over time, the settlers began to separate the tobacco into sections of equal quality. The leaves were then tied together in Hands, bunches of five to fourteen. The Hands were returned to platforms to sweat. When they were once again "in case", the inspection of the crop could take place and the final processing for export begin.[18]

Early on, the way that tobacco was prepared for shipping was very simple. The tobacco leaves were twisted and rolled, then spun into rope, which was wound into balls weighing as much as a hundred pounds. These balls were protected in canvas or barrels, which would then be shipped to Britain. Although the export of bulk tobacco was not outlawed until 1730, a large barrel called a "hogshead" soon became the favored container throughout the colonial period. Even though its capacity varied slightly, governed by the regulations of the day, the average weight of the tobacco stored in a hogshead barrel was about a thousand pounds.[18]

These barrels were transported in a variety of ways to the ships on which they would be carried to England. At first, captains of merchant vessels simply traveled from one plantation dock to the next, loading up with barrels of tobacco as they moved along the river. Other ways included employing northern smugglers to ferry tobacco to England.

Plantations in Virginia

This 1670 painting shows enslaved Africans working in the tobacco sheds of a colonial tobacco plantation.

In 1609, English colonist John Rolfe arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, and became the first settler to successfully raise tobacco (commonly referred to at that time as "brown gold")[19] for commercial use. Tobacco was used as currency by the Virginia settlers for years, and Rolfe was able to make his fortune in farming it for export at Varina Farms Plantation.

When he left for England with his wife Pocahontas, a daughter of Chief Powhatan, he had become wealthy. Returning to Jamestown, following Pocahontas' death in England, Rolfe continued in his efforts to improve the quality of commercial tobacco, and, by 1620, 40,000 pounds (18,000 kg) of tobacco were shipped to England. By the time John Rolfe died in 1622, Jamestown was thriving as a producer of tobacco, and its population had topped 4,000. Tobacco led to the importation of the colony's first black slaves in 1619.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, tobacco continued to be the cash crop of the Virginia Colony, as well as The Carolinas. Large tobacco warehouses filled the areas near the wharves of new, thriving towns such as Dumfries on the Potomac, Richmond and Manchester at the fall line (head of navigation) on the James, and Petersburg on the Appomattox.

Modern history

A historian of the American South in the late 1860s reported on typical usage in the region where it was grown:[20]

The chewing of tobacco was well-nigh universal. This habit had been widespread among the agricultural population of America both North and South before the war. Soldiers had found the quid a solace in the field and continued to revolve it in their mouths upon returning to their homes. Out of doors where his life was principally led the chewer spat upon his lands without offence to other men, and his homes and public buildings were supplied with spittoons. Brown and yellow parabolas were projected to right and left toward these receivers, but very often without the careful aim which made for clean living. Even the pews of fashionable churches were likely to contain these familiar conveniences. The large numbers of Southern men, and these were of the better class (officers in the Confederate army and planters, worth $20,000 or more, and barred from general amnesty) who presented themselves for the pardon of President Johnson, while they sat awaiting his pleasure in the ante-room at the White House, covered its floor with pools and rivulets of their spittle. An observant traveller in the South in 1865 said that in his belief seven-tenths of all persons above the age of twelve years, both male and female, used tobacco in some form. Women could be seen at the doors of their cabins in their bare feet, in their dirty one-piece cotton garments, their chairs tipped back, smoking pipes made of corn cobs into which were fitted reed stems or goose quills. Boys of eight or nine years of age and half-grown girls smoked. Women and girls "dipped" in their houses, on their porches, in the public parlors of hotels and in the streets.

Until 1883, tobacco excise tax accounted for one third of internal revenue collected by the United States government. Internal Revenue Service data for 1879-80 show total tobacco tax receipts of $38.9 million, out of total receipts of $116.8 million.[21] Following the American Civil War, the tobacco industry struggled as it attempted to adapt. Not only did the labor force change from slavery to sharecropping, but a change in demand also occurred. As in Europe, there was a desire for not only snuff, pipes and cigars, but cigarettes as well.

With a change in demand and a change in labor force, James Bonsack, an avid craftsman, in 1881 created a machine that revolutionized cigarette production. The machine chopped the tobacco, then dropped a certain amount of the tobacco into a long tube of paper, which the machine would then roll and push out the end where it would be sliced by the machine into individual cigarettes. This machine operated at thirteen times the speed of a human cigarette roller.[22]

This caused an enormous growth in the tobacco industry that lasted well into the 20th century, until the scientific revelations discovering health consequences of smoking[23] and tobacco companies' usage of chemical additives was revealed.

In the United States, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) became law in 2009. It gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products to protect public health.[24]

Health concerns

A lengthy study conducted in order to establish the strong association necessary for legislative action.

Nazi Germany saw the first modern anti-smoking campaign,[25] the National Socialist government condemning tobacco use,[26] funding research against it,[27] levying increasing sin taxes on it,[28] and in 1941 tobacco was banned in various public places as a health hazard.

In the UK and the USA, an increase in lung cancer rates was being picked up by the 1930s, but the cause for this increase remained debated and unclear.[29]

A true breakthrough came in 1948, when the British physiologist Richard Doll published the first major studies that proved that smoking could cause serious health damage.[30][31] In 1950, he published research in the British Medical Journal that showed a close link between smoking and lung cancer.[32] Four years later, in 1954 the British Doctors Study, a study of some 40 thousand doctors over 20 years, confirmed the suggestion, based on which the government issued advice that smoking and lung cancer rates were related.[33] The British Doctors Study lasted till 2001, with result published every ten years and final results published in 2004 by Doll and Richard Peto.[34] Much early research was also done by Dr. Ochsner. Reader's Digest magazine for many years published frequent anti-smoking articles.

In 1964 the United States Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health likewise began suggesting the relationship between smoking and cancer, which confirmed its suggestions 20 years later in the 1980s.

Since its introduction to the world by Native Americans in the 15th century, It has been reported that nearly 1 billion deaths worldwide are directly attributable to tobacco use.

Partial controls and regulatory measures eventually followed in much of the developed world, including partial advertising bans, minimum age of sale requirements, and basic health warnings on tobacco packaging. However, smoking prevalence and associated ill health continued to rise in the developed world in the first three decades following Richard Doll's discovery, with governments sometimes reluctant to curtail a habit seen as popular as a result - and increasingly organised disinformation efforts by the tobacco industry and their proxies (covered in more detail below). Realisation dawned gradually that the health effects of smoking and tobacco use were susceptible only to a multi-pronged policy response which combined positive health messages with medical assistance to cease tobacco use and effective marketing restrictions, as initially indicated in a 1962 overview by the British Royal College of Physicians[35] and the 1964 report of the U.S. Surgeon General.

In the 1950s tobacco companies engaged in a cigarette advertising war surrounding the tar content in cigarettes that came to be known as the tar derby. The companies repositioned their brands to emphasize low tar content, filter technology and nicotine levels. The period ended in 1959 after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman and several cigarette company presidents agreed to discontinue usage of tar or nicotine levels in advertisements.[36]

In order to reduce the potential burden of disease, the World Health Organization(WHO) successfully rallied 168 countries to sign the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003.[37] The Convention is designed to push for effective legislation and its enforcement in all countries to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco.

In science

The tobacco smoke enema was the principal medical method to resuscitate victims of drowning in the 18th century.

As a lucrative crop, tobacco has been the subject of a great deal of biological and genetic research. The economic impact of Tobacco Mosaic disease was the impetus that led to the isolation of Tobacco mosaic virus, the first virus to be identified; the fortunate coincidence that it is one of the simplest viruses and can self-assemble from purified nucleic acid and protein led, in turn, to the rapid advancement of the field of virology. The 1946 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was shared by Wendell Meredith Stanley for his 1935 work crystallizing the virus and showing that it remains active.


  1. e.g. Heckewelder, History, Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania, p. 149 ff.
  2. "They smoke with excessive eagerness ... men, women, girls and boys, all find their keenest pleasure in this way." - Dièreville describing the Mi'kmaq, c. 1699 in Port Royal.
  3. Tobacco: A Study of Its Consumption in the United States, Jack Jacob Gottsegen, 1940, p. 107.
  4. California Natural History Guides: 10. Early Uses of California Plant, By Edward K. Balls University of California Press, 1962 University of California Press.
  5. 1 2 http://archive.tobacco.org/History/colonialtobacco.html
  6. Aboriginal Youth Network / Health Canada, "A Tribe called Quit"
  7. 1 2 Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico p. 768
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  10. Grehan, p.1
  11. Grehan, p.2
  12. Grehan, p.7
  13. 7 Historical Smoking Bans
  14. 1 2 Grehan, p.3
  15. Tobacco in Australia
  16. Scharf, J. Thomas
  17. https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/tobacco-colonial-cultivation-methods.htm
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6
  19. Jamestown, Virginia: An Overview
  20. A History of the United States since the Civil War Volume: 1. by Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer; 1917. P 93.
  21. 'The Republican Campaign Textbook, 1880.' Statistical Tables, P 207.
  22. Burns, p. 134.
  23. Burns, pp. 134–135.
  24. http://www.fda.gov/tobaccoproducts/guidancecomplianceregulatoryinformation/ucm246129.htm
  25. Szollosi-Janze 2001, p. 15
  26. Bynum et al. 2006, p. 375
  27. Proctor, Robert N. (1996), Nazi Medicine and Public Health Policy, Dimensions, Anti-Defamation League, archived from the original on 31 May 2008, retrieved 2008-06-01
  28. Robert N. Proctor, Pennsylvania State University (December 1996), "The anti-tobacco campaign of the Nazis: a little known aspect of public health in Germany, 1933-45", British Medical Journal, 313 (7070): 1450–3, doi:10.1136/bmj.313.7070.1450, PMC 2352989Freely accessible, PMID 8973234, archived from the original on 19 May 2008, retrieved 2008-06-01
  29. Colin White (September 1989). "Research on Smoking and Lung Cancer: A Landmark in the History of Chronic Disease Epidemiology" (PDF). The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 63 (1): 29–46. PMC 2589239Freely accessible. PMID 2192501.
  30. Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun, "Introduction" in Smoke, p. 25
  31. JM Appel. Smoke and Mirrors: One Case for Ethical Obligations of the Physician as Public Role Model Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Volume 18, Issue 01, January 2009, pp 95-100.
  32. Doll, Richard; Hill, A. Bradford (30 September 1950). "Smoking and carcinoma of the lung. Preliminary report". British Medical Journal. 2 (4682): 739–48. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.4682.739. PMC 2038856Freely accessible. PMID 14772469.
  33. Doll, Richard; Hill, A. Bradford (26 June 1954). "The mortality of doctors in relation to their smoking habits. A preliminary report". British Medical Journal. 1 (4877): 1451–55. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.4877.1451. PMC 2085438Freely accessible. PMID 13160495.
  34. Doll R, Peto R, Boreham J, Sutherland I (2004). "Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years' observation on male British doctors.". BMJ. 328 (7455): 1519. doi:10.1136/bmj.38142.554479.AE. PMC 437139Freely accessible. PMID 15213107.
  35. Royal College of Physicians "Smoking and Health. Summary and report of the Royal College of Physicians of London on smoking in relation to cancer of the lung and other diseases"(1962)
  36. "TOBACCO: End of the Tar Derby". Time. 15 February 1960.
  37. WHO | WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC)

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