A Brief History of Tobacco Smoking


Tobacco has a long and very interesting history. Here is a brief summary of some of the highlights (and lowlights) of Tobacco’s history:

6000 BC: Tobacco starts growing in the Americas, the only country in the world to which it is native.

1000 BC: The Mayan civilization of Central America begin using the leaves of the Tobacco plant for smoking and chewing. Gradually, the habit is adopted throughout America.

1493 AD: One of Columbus’s fellow explorers, Rodrigo de Jerez, is probably the first European smoker when he started the habit in Cuba. When he arrived back in Europe, he smoked in public which so disgusted the people who witnessed the act that he was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition and jailed for three years.

1560’s: First shipment of tobacco reaches Britain.

1566-1625: In 1604, King James I (of England) published his famous report called “A Counterblast to Tobaccoâ€Â, in which he describes tobacco as addictive and “an invention of Satan” and banned its use from alehouses in London. However, years later he changed his mind and nationalized the rapidly expanding tobacco industry and reduced the taxes on tobacco.

1596-1645: Michael Feodorovich, the first Romanov Czar, declared the use of tobacco a deadly sin in Russia and forbade its possession for any purpose.

In India, Persia, and Turkey, the death penalty was prescribed as a cure for the habit.

1600: Tobacco use banned by His Holiness, Pope Clement VIII, who threatens anyone who smokes in a holy place with ex-communication. However, Tobacco production is now well established in the New World, and its use becomes increasingly popular throughout Europe.

1602: An anonymous author published an essay titled “Worke of Chimney Sweepers” which stated that tobacco may cause illnesses similar to those seen in chimney sweeps.

1795: Sammuel Thomas von Soemmering of Main reported that cancers of the lip in pipe smokers were becoming more common.

1798: Physician Benjamin Rush wrote on the medical dangers of tobacco use.

1832: First paper rolled cigarette.

**1856: **The first cigarette factory in the world opens in Walworth, England.

1858: Fears about the health effects of smoking are raised in The Lancet.

Late 1800’s: Cigarette-making machines are developed that produce about 200 cigarettes per minute (today’s machines produce about 9,000 per minute), allowing for cheap mass production. This and the use of advertising allows tobacco companies to greatly expand their markets.

1920’s: Medical reports appear that link smoking to lung cancer. However, these reports receive scant attention from newspaper editors who do not want to offend tobacco companies who advertised heavily in their media.

1950: A link between lung cancer and smoking is established and the resulting research is published in the British Medical Journal. Research by Professor Richard Doll and A Bradford Hill.

1964: Luther Terry, US Surgeon General, announces that smoking does cause lung cancer.

1965: The US Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act requires US Surgeon General’s health warnings on all cigarette packs. The UK Government bans cigarette ads on UK television.

1970: Broadcast ads for cigarettes are banned in America. The last advert screened is for Virginia Slims in 1971.

1973: Airlines are ordered to create non-smoking sections by the US Government.

1983: The first smoker suffering from lung cancer, Rose Cipollone, files a landmark lawsuit. After 9 long years, she is awarded $400,000 in compensation, but the court’s decision is overturned on appeal.

1988: US Surgeon General concludes that nicotine is an addictive drug in his 20th report.

1992 :Nicotine patches introduced. The US Supreme Court rules that warning labels on packs of cigarettes do not protect tobacco companies from lawsuits.

1993: The first US state, Vermont, bans smoking in indoor public places.

1994: In Congressional testimony, executives from seven of the biggest tobacco companies in the US swear (under oath) that nicotine is not addictive.

Mississippi files the first in a series of lawsuits against tobacco companies in an attempt to recoup the millions of dollars the state is spending on smokers’ medical treatment.

After her husband died from cancer, Diana Castano filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry, and it eventually expands to involve 60 lawyers representing millions of smokers.

MacDonalds bans smoking in all its restaurants

1995: New York City passes Smoke-Free Air Act and strengthens Clean Indoor Air Act.

1998: 46 US states negotiate a $206 billion settlement with tobacco companies for the health costs of treating sick smokers.

In Congressional testimony, executives of tobacco companies admit that nicotine is addictive and that smoking can cause cancer.

2003-2007: The USA, UK, Australia, and much of Europe restricts smoking in indoor areas to designated smoking areas, later leading to a full ban on indoor smoking within the next few years.

In addition to the above history:

In the 19th century, some doctors attempted to attribute amazing powers to smoking, including claims that it was useful for treating depression and a range of lung and rheumatic conditions.

The prevalence of smoking increased dramatically during the world wars, mainly due to the policy of providing free cigarettes to troops as a “morale boosting” exercise.

It is very interesting to read about the tactics used by big tobacco companies to boost the demand for their products. Such tactics have included:

  • Denying that their products are harmful or addictive, even in the face of undeniable statistics.
  • Adding sugar and a range of other chemicals to cigarettes to make them more appealing and pleasurable.
  • Selling chocolate cigarettes to kids to get them into the habit of holding cigarette-like items in their hands and pretending to smoke as early as possible.
  • Advertising smoking as glamorous in movies and in TV ads, where the people who smoke are independent, liberated, successful, and strong.
  • The Marlborough Man image is one of the strongest and most successful images ever used in advertising, and has greatly increased the uptake of smoking, particularly among by males, eventually causing their ill health and/or death.


Last Updated on November 14, 2022