A brief history of smoking

How long has tobacco been around?

  • Tobacco has been growing wild in the Americas for nearly 8000 years.
  • Around 2,000 years ago tobacco began to be chewed and smoked during cultural or religious ceremonies and events.

Who discovered tobacco and where?

  • The first European to discover smoking was Christopher Columbus
  • In 1531 tobacco was cultivated for the first time in Europe (at Santo Domingo). By 1600 tobacco use had spread across Europe and England and was being used as a monetary standard, a practice that continued throughout the following century
  • By the 1700s smoking had become more widespread and a tobacco industry had developed industry

When was tobacco first considered to be dangerous to health?

  • In 1602 an anonymous English author published an essay titled Worke of Chimney Sweepers (sic) which stated that illnesses often seen in chimney sweepers were caused by soot and that tobacco may have similar effects. This was one of the earliest known instances of smoking being linked to ill health.
  • In 1795 Sammuel Thomas von Soemmering of Maine (Germany) reported that he was becoming more aware of cancers of the lip in pipe smokers
  • In 1798 the US physician Benjamin Rush wrote on the medical dangers of tobacco
  • During the 1920s the first medical reports linking smoking to lung cancer began to appear. Many newspaper editors refused to report these findings as they did not want to offend tobacco companies who advertised heavily in the media
  • A series of major medical reports in the 1950s and 1960s confirmed that tobacco caused a range of serious diseases.

When were cigarettes developed?

  • Cigarette making machines were developed in the latter half of the 1800s. The first such machines produced about 200 cigarettes per minute (today’s machines produce about 9,000 per minute). Cheap mass production and the use of cigarette advertising allowed tobacco companies to expand their markets during this period.

What caused the growth and later decline of smoking in traditional markets?

  • The prevalence of cigarette smoking continued to grow in the early 20th Century mainly as a result of:
    • The development of new forms of tobacco promotion
    • The ability of the tobacco industry through its power and wealth to influence the policies of political parties.
  • Smoking increased dramatically during the world wars, mainly due to the policy of providing free cigarettes to allied troops as a ‘morale boosting’ exercise.
  • Later in the twentieth century, smoking became less popular due to a rapid increase in knowledge of the health effects of both active and passive smoking.
  • People also became aware of the tobacco industry’s efforts to mislead the public about the health effects of smoking and to manipulate public policy for the short-term interests of the industry.
  • The first successful lawsuits against tobacco companies over smoking-related illness happened in the latter part of the 20th Century.

What are current global smoking trends?

  • As smoking prevalence rates have declined in the traditional markets of North America and Western Europe, the tobacco industry has re-focussed its promotional efforts onto the less developed and emerging nations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and Latin America.   The often weak regulatory environment in these countries has further encouraged the industry to target populations in these nations.
  • If current patterns continue, tobacco use will kill approximately 10 million people every year throughout the world by 2020; 70% of these deaths will occur in less developed and emerging nations.

Useful references and links