The rise of tobacco has been very drastic in a short period of time and if it weren’t for certain historical actions, characters and course of events, then maybe cigarette smoking wouldn’t play such a major role in a huge number of our lives.
It is thought that tobacco growing started in the region of Central America around 6000 BC.
It wasn’t until 5000 years later, around 1000 BC that the Mayan civilisation began to chew and smoke the leaves of the tobacco plant, as well as mix the leaves together with herbs and plants and administer the mixture to the wounds of the sick.
As the Mayans dispersed and populated different areas, such as North and South America, they took with them their precious tobacco leaves and plants.
Hundreds of years later during the time of some of the world’s greatest European explorers, tobacco was discovered and later brought back to the new world.
Columbus was probably the first European to see tobacco leaves although he did not smoke them himself.
A fellow explorer, Rodrigo de Jerez, shortly after, landed in Cuba and observed some of the inhabitants smoking the tobacco leaves. He then proceeded to partake in the smoking act himself.
On his return to Spain, laden with heaps of tobacco, Jerez startled his fellow countrymen by smoking in front of them. Never in their lives had they seen a man with smoke coming out of his mouth and nose. People thought that he was possessed by the devil and members of the Spanish Inquisition imprisoned him for several years. During his imprisonment, smoking actually became quite popular in Spain.
In the 1530′s a number of Europeans saw the potential money making in tobacco and they decided to cash in and make their wealth from the cultivation of this popular plant. They began to colonize areas of the Caribbean and established large tobacco growing areas, from which they exported all the tobacco back to Europe.
It is said that Sir Francis Drake was the first man to bring back a consignment of tobacco into the UK in 1573, although Sir Walter Raleigh later went on to make tobacco smoking popular in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.
During the year 1586 Sir Walter Raleigh embarked on a trip to the Americas where he met Ralph Lane, who at the time was Governor of Virginia. Lane introduced Raleigh to the pleasures of smoking a clay pipe, which was popular there in that era.
A year later a number of colonists who had previously left England to settle in Virginia, returned to their homeland and introduced the fashion of smoking clay pipes into English society. Over the years many English families travelled to Virginia to settle in order to try and make a wealthy living from growing tobacco in the plantations there.
Pipe smoking was also gradually becoming extremely popular in several other European countries, including Spain and France.
At the beginning of the 17th Century, tobacco was just starting to be regularly imported into the UK, with amounts of 25,000 pounds being shipped from the Americas. By the turn of the century this amount had increased to a figure nearing 38 million pounds and the competitive marketing and tobacco production on a large scale began to get underway.
Pipe smoking and snuff had become popular in London during the 17th Century and later smoking cigars became the trend but it wasn’t until the mid 1800′s that the cigarette as we know it was manufactured.
With the introduction of cigarette making machines, which at the time produced about 200 cigarettes a minute, the tobacco industry began to grow and grow.
As cigarettes were now being mass-produced, they became more easily available and affordable to a wider range of people.
At first it was mainly the soldiers who were fighting in the wars who became hooked on smoking. Sometimes with long periods of inactivity, the soldiers became low in morale, so they were given cigarettes to smoke in order to keep up their spirits.
At the start of the Second World War, American president Roosevelt made tobacco a protected crop. There were shortages of tobacco in America and England, as packets and packets of cigarettes were sent to the troops fighting in the war.
This is the time, during both World Wars, that smoking cigarettes became immensely popular. After the war the soldiers went back home and introduced cigarettes to their families, therefore strengthening the trend.
Back then, medical research into the effects of smoking was in its infancy and it wasn’t until the 1950′s that the first warning signals were being sound, as links between smoking and lung cancer were suddenly being reported.
At that time tobacco companies had become multi million pound industries and they could not afford to have bad publicity.
In 1964, the US Surgeon General reported that smoking cigarettes caused lung cancer. Following this, advertising tobacco was banned from television and radio and tobacco companies were made to print health warnings on the packets of their cigarette brand.
In 1973, the first restrictions on smoking in public were put into place in the US. All airline companies were made to separate smoking areas from non-smoking areas on their planes and in 1987 all smoking was prohibited on flights of less than two hours duration.
In 1988 the US Surgeon General concluded after extensive research that nicotine is an addictive drug.
By 1990 there were more restrictions on smoking on public modes of transport and Vermont became the first state in the USA to ban smoking in all indoor public places.
Big tobacco bosses swore in Congress 1994 that nicotine wasn’t addictive and that they did not in any way control the levels of nicotine found in cigarettes. However only three years later they reappeared before Congress to testify that nicotine was in fact addictive and that smoking could cause cancer.
More and more tobacco companies in the US were being prosecuted by individuals wanting compensation for the death of their relatives or for their own ill health, which they claimed had been caused by smoking. Claimants became more successful in winning their cases as time went on and an increasing number of tobacco companies were demanded to pay out huge amounts of money in damages.
Advertising cigarette brands in the media has now been banned in many countries in order to try and prevent more and more people taking up the habit and there are smoking restrictions in all indoor public places and all workplaces in several cities and countries including New York, California, Florida, Norway, England, Ireland and Spain.