History Of Tobacco & Nicotine In Western Society

History of tobacco & nicotine, allegedly smoked by Native Americans for centuries, was only discovered by sailors and imported to Western countries in the 16th century

Tobacco has travelled a long and varied road since it was first introduced to Western Society in the 16th Century.

While there is evidence that the herb was simultaneously being used in Asia and Northern America for centuries prior to its introduction to European explorers, the spread of tobacco throughout the world was precipitated by its discovery by Spanish, Portuguese and French explorers.

Christopher Columbus testified to the widescale use of tobacco amongst Native Americans when he discovered America in the late 15th Century but there is anecdotal evidence of earlier voyages by other explorers to the continent who had testified to witnessing people smoking tobacco.

French explorer Jacques Cartier wrote the first definitive account of early experimentation by Europeans, describing how he had smoked tobacco with Native Americans whilst in the Americas.

Tobacco was introduced into Europe in the mid-16th Century, France in 1556, then Portugal in 1558, Spain 1559 and England in 1565.

The Europeans were swayed by the American Indian culture that told of tobacco being used as a curative for mental and physical afflictions and when the herb was first introduced in Europe, it was touted as a miracle cure for all manner of ailments, from sexually transmitted diseases to flatulence.

In England and France, tobacco was seen as an elitist priviledge with popular mythology relating the tale of Sir Walter Raleigh convincing even the Queen to partake in smoking.

The French Ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot, introduced the queen consort and regent of France, Catherine de Medicis, to tobacco, prompting historians to name the genus 'nicotiana' - and hence nicotine - after him.

In the US, tobacco farming grew to the extent where it was the prefered currency with which the early US settlers bartered for goods manufactured in Europe.

As a consequence, methods had to be developed to enable tobacco to survive long journeys by ship across the seas. To this end, the early settlers developed fire-curing and later charcoal-curing which extended the shelf life of tobacco, enabling it to retain the taste.

As tobacco farming became increasing lucrative and colonialisation spread word around the globe, the elitist image of smoking began to change. By the mid-1800's it was an accepted phenomenon and the production of rolling machines in the late 1880's only increased the uptake of cigarettes. By the beginning of the 20th Century, sale of cigarettes was a common phenomenon available in most metropolitan centres.

Towards the middle of the 20th Century, however, medical researchers began to publicly express doubt as to the health implications of cigarette smoking.

In 1964, the US Surgeon General concluded that cigarette smoking was indeed causally related to lung cancer and related lung and heart diseases, slapping warning signs on cigaratte packets.

The Surgeon General today believes that cigarette smoking is implicated in the deaths of over 3-million people a year.

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