Cigars, Cigarettes & Snuff-The History of Tobacco

Tobacco is a plant that was originally found in North and South America and belongs in the same family as the pepper and potato. It is believed that the earliest people to use the tobacco plant were the American Indians. Around 1 B.C., the American Indians started to use tobacco for medicinal and religious proposes; it was used as an effective painkiller and antiseptic. The American Indians also chewed tobacco; they believed this could cure all sorts of tooth infections.

Christopher Columbus first introduced tobacco to Europe. After visiting the New World, soldiers started carrying back tobacco to Europe. Due to its addictive nature and apparent healing properties, tobacco became very popular in Europe. A Spanish doctor named Nicolas Monardes further reinforced the belief in tobacco’s medicinal properties by claiming it could cure almost forty types of common health problems. As a result, the trend of smoking tobacco became popular in Europe by the turn of the 17th century. During the 17th century, tobacco reached its height of popularity so it was often used as a form of money and touted to be “as good as gold”.

Today, tobacco is used worldwide. Some of the most popular forms of tobacco consumption include chewing tobacco, an old way of consuming the tobacco leaves; hookah, a water pipe used to inhale tobacco; snuff, fine ground tobacco; cigarette, the most popular form of tobacco made from finely cut leaves; and the cigar, rolls of fermented tobacco. In 1847, hand rolled Turkish cigarettes were manufactured by the company Phillip Morris. Within a few years, another major tobacco company named J.E. Liggett and Brother was established. By 1901, the sale of cigarettes touched a staggering 3.5 billion units; the following year, Phillip Morris launched their Marlboro brand of cigarettes.

In more recent history the harmful aspects of tobacco use have come to the forefront, as scientists began to address the carcinogenic properties of tobacco. The poisonous nicotine in tobacco was discovered in 1826, and in 1836, tobacco use was determined to be fatal by Samuel Green, an American scientist. Research on tobacco and tobacco consumption continued and by the 1950’s, there was enough evidence to suggest that tobacco could cause lung cancer. The tobacco industry countered the allegations by introducing filtered cigarettes, such as the Salem brand of filter-tipped cigarettes introduced by RJ Reynolds. By the 1960’s, health warnings on the packs of cigarettes began to appear; as a result, the popularity and sales of cigarettes began to decline.

During the 1980’s, a number of lawsuits were filed against the American and European tobacco manufacturers, which further decreased the tobacco sales worldwide. Smoking was regarded as politically incorrect and smoking in public places was banned in many areas. In 1982, Surgeon General Report concluded that second-hand smoke could also cause cancer. In 1985, surveys showed that lung cancer was more prevalent in U.S. women than breast cancer.

Although tobacco is still popular throughout the world, new legislations and high taxes on tobacco products is forcing large tobacco companies to diversify their products and enter completely new product domains. A new type of cigarette called the e-cigarette has been introduced lately. The e-cigarette is a battery-operated model that uses a vaporized solution to provide doses of nicotine. Overall, the future of tobacco does not look very bright, legislation, taxes, and special interest groups continue to provide roadblocks for tobacco corporations. However, even with public campaigns advising against smoking, tobacco industries continue to grow.

For additional resources on tobacco, please refer to the following sites:

  • Tobacco Control Research: The National Cancer Institute’s webpage dedicated to tobacco control research.
  • Tobacco Control: The official website of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research in the UK.