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The History of Tobacco

By Brett Nelson Subscribe to RSS | April 3rd 2012 | Views:

Tobacco has a long history and extensive popularity throughout the world. The tobacco plant is native to North and South America. It is in the same family as the potato, pepper and the poisonous nightshade and grows rapidly because it contains large amounts of extremely small seeds (one ounce contains about 300,000 seeds). Tobacco has had a long journey, and while there are many hoping it will continue, from anti-tobacco campaigns to the electronic cigarette, we are starting to see society taking extraordinary measures to prevent the tobacco plant from continuing much longer.

As early as 1 B.C. American Indians are said to have used tobacco in many different ways, including religious and medical practices. Early Indian artwork even shows images of tobacco being used in these types of practices. Tobacco was believed to be a multi-purpose remedy, using it to dress wounds, as a painkiller, and used chewing tobacco to relieve toothaches. Native Americans smoked tobacco through a pipe, however the tobacco was considered sacred and they didn’t smoke every day.

Once European settlers came to the Americas, tobacco became the first crop grown for money in North America. Christopher Columbus was offered tobacco leaves as a gift from the natives and soon after, sailors started taking tobacco back with them and Europeans all over, quickly started growing tobacco themselves.

The supposed healing properties were the major reason for tobacco’s growing popularity in Europe. Europeans believed, much like the Native Americans, that tobacco could cure pretty much anything. By 1612, the first European settlers into America grew tobacco as a cash crop, and it became their main source of money. More than corn, cotton, wheat, sugar and soya beans, tobacco was the main financial stability for the American Revolution, and was even a favorite crop for George Washington.

From the end of the American Revolution until the mid 19th century, people began using tobacco leisurely, by either putting it in a pipe, chewing it, or rolling it up in a cigarette or cigar. It wasn’t until James Bonsack created a machine for cigarette production in 1881 that the industrialization of tobacco smoking really took off. The machine was able to operate thirteen times the speed of a human cigarette roller. While scientists couldn’t go as far as creating smoke free cigarettes, by the early to mid-20th century, scientists became increasingly concerned about the safety and negative side effects of tobacco use.

By the early 20th century, the war on cigarette use began. While tobacco use in forms of pipes and cigars were common of the upperclassmen, cigarettes were most popular to the working class. By the time of the First World War however, cigarettes got the nickname of “soldier’s smoke”. Up until this point, tobacco use was targeted to men, but by the end of the First World War, the new brand ‘Marlboro’ created milder cigarettes in order to target women. Companies began to compete with this idea, and multiple brands of cigarettes advertising for different markets took off.

During the 1950s, scientists became more open about the side effects of tobacco use and in 1964, health warnings start popping up, and tobacco products are no longer advertised on radio or television. In 1968, the first tobacco free cigarette was marked, even though it failed miserably.

Slowly but surely, tobacco sales are beginning to diminish. The US has banned smoking from any public establishment, and all advertisements are also banned from being publicized. While there are still smokers, it is clear we are now living in an anti-tobacco world, painfully aware of the negative side effects it causes.

Brett Nelson - About Author:
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