We’ve been inhaling smoke for pleasure for around 7,000 years before the birth of Christ. Our favourite smoke has been tobacco, with which we’ve had a long and complicated relationship – it’s been praised and demonised, loved and hated since we first lit up in the First World in the 16th century.
The first smokers were probably Latin American priests, and it’s likely there was more than tobacco in the tube-like pipes they lit. The Aztecs worshipped tobacco, believing one of their gods was made of the magical plant. The descendants of the Mayans still perform tobacco rituals today.
By the time Europeans arrived in the Americas, tobacco smoking was well established in both North and South America. And, the explorers brought it back home with them.
The man who gave us nicotine
Most enthusiastic of the tobacco importers was Frenchman, Jean Nicot, who gave his name to nicotine after turning the French court onto the weed. So fond of it was Queen Catherine of Medici – she believed snuff cured her son’s migraines – that the French soon knew it as The Queen’s Herb.
Across Europe – the first recorded British smoker was a sailor on Bristol’s dockside – the habit spread, often as cure-all, much loved by medical men.
The king who tried to stub it out
It wasn’t long before this smelly habit had its most famous opponent. James I of England, famously hated this ‘lothsome’ custom, and brought in the first tobacco tax to try to stamp it out.
Just as American peoples had used tobacco as a powerful commercial crop, so did the Europeans, who sold tobacco on around the world to cultures where it often replaced cannabis as the preferred combustible herb.
With the habit’s spread, the opposition to it spread too. The Ottoman Empire tried to ban it, the Chinese managed it. Japanese governments thought growing the stuff was a waste of valuable farmland. In Moscow, you could have your nose slit and be flayed for lighting up.
The rolling machine
In its South American heartlands, pipes or tubes had been used to smoke tobacco, or leaves used to make primitive roll-ups. The Spanish refined these into the papelate and smoking had another great leap forward and when the new invention arrived in France it was given a new name – cigarette.
Cigarettes – often, as in France, made by state monopolies – were still rolled by hand, either by the smoker himself or by skilled workers as an expensive luxury item. That’s until James Bonsack came along in 1880 and won a competition to produce a cigarette rolling machine – soon ready-mades were rolling off the production line at 120 fags a minute.
Smoking still had its opponents, women smokers were particularly criticised, but no-one had any medical evidence to add to the undeniable fact that it was a smelly, messy and annoying habit. Soldiers sent to die in the First and Second World Wars got cigarettes as part of their rations.
Smoking and cancer
The anti-smoking flame burned particularly strongly in Germany. Hitler twisted a habit he had quit to save money into a Native American revenge plot on Western civilisation. The Nazis banned smoking in their offices and German doctors made the first statistical link between puffing on cigarettes and lung cancer in 1929.
However, even after the Second World War, doctors were still promoting smoking to their patients and anyone who’s watched Hollywood’s output from the time might believe lighting up was compulsory. But, as more and more people smoked, lung cancer rates kept going up and, in 1948, Richard Doll published a paper linking the two which was backed by a 1954 survey of doctors.
The end of smoking?
With a powerful and lucrative industry worth billions in tax revenue fighting its corner, it wasn’t until 1964 that the US government introduced the first health warnings on cigarette packets and started to restrict advertising. The medical evidence mounted, until in 1998, America’s four biggest manufacturers signed over $206 billion in a massive legal settlement.
The modern story of tobacco has been all about quitting. Nicotine has been supplied in safer forms, everything from inhalers to chewing gum, and smoking has been banned in public places and ever more restrictions placed on its promotion.
One of the most exciting alternatives to smoking has been the e-cigarette. The idea was first floated in the 1960s, but didn’t take off until a Chinese pharmacist called Hon Lik sold his first e-liquid electronic cigarettes in 2004, they were internationally patented in 2009 and now are spreading like wildfire, without the fire. They are cheaper than cigarettes, leave no dirty ash or butts and you can smoke almost anywhere.
Derek Devlin is a lover of vaping and has been vaping for a number of years now and loves it. He based a lot of what he’s seen on research and regularaly reads blogs like http://enjuice.com/blog/