Smoking has become a widespread phenomenon marked by the sexy appeal and glamour of Hollywood celebrities. The health issues surrounding smoking have led to the development of vapor cigarettes and other alternatives. Initially, using tobacco wasn’t a display of glamour; it was tied to cultural beliefs and customs. In some ancient communities, tobacco was even celebrated for medicinal purposes. Here’s a closer look at the evolution of smoking.
Tobacco in Pre-Columbian Times
Millennia before the e-cigarette and e-liquid existed, there was the simple tobacco plant. Evidence shows that humans first came into contact with tobacco roughly 18,000 years ago. Cultivation of the tobacco plant began as far back as 5000 B.C. Modern tobacco actually has its origins in the Andes Mountains, near Peru and Ecuador.
Tobacco was in wide use even before Columbus founded the New World. However, its uses were broad. While early adopters of tobacco preferred the plant chewed, dried, toasted, or powdered, tobacco more frequently had utilitarian applications. Tobacco smoke was used to kill insects in harvests. The juice, when applied to the skin, successfully killed lice. In medicine, tobacco was used as a mild pain reliever and antiseptic.
Tobacco was most significantly used as a mythical, ritualistic device by the native peoples. Smoke was used by shamans in healing ceremonies. It was blown over men before battle.
Native Americans prominently smoked tobacco in pipe ceremonies. In these ceremonies, the pipe was seen as a link between the earth and sky, the physical and spiritual. Smoke became words in material form, spreading out and becoming a part of everything. The pipe, and smoking from the pipe, became so sacred that the signing of treaties and agreements was accompanied by a pipe ceremony. The native peoples understood that smoking the pipe was as good as setting the agreement in stone.
Into the New World
Initially, Columbus and other early European explorers were puzzled when the native groups traded or gifted dried tobacco leaves. The explorers often threw them away until Columbus’s trip from San Salvador to Cuba when his crew observed the smoking customs and went so far as to try it themselves. And so recreational smoking was born. As smoking met Christianity, tobacco use was soon seen as satanic, its calming effects understood to be more spiritual than physiological, and was condemned by the church.
This condemnation was short-lived as tobacco gained a mixed reception amidst further conquest, disease, and technological advancement.
Further exploration through the Americas led to an even greater boost in tobacco use in Europe, especially for its supposed medical properties. It was known as an appetite suppressant, and some physicians saw smoking as a prescription for the plague. Eventually, smoking became a recreational activity with help from endorsements from famous persons, like Sir Walter Raleigh, and the first shipment of tobacco was sent to England in 1613.
Sailors and global trade led to the dissemination of not just tobacco, but also smoking habits throughout the greater world.
Despite tobacco’s wide use, the cigarette didn’t come about until early in the nineteenth century. Prior to the cigarette, each country had its own preferred way of using tobacco. The English preferred the pipe due to their early interactions with Native Americans. The French primarily used snuff. The Spanish primarily used cigars, a close relative to what they initially encountered during their exploration of the New World. American colonists preferred chewing tobacco.
The cigarette came about as the European power struggle came to a head. Spain retained its ancestors’ customs by smoking tobacco neatly rolled in corn husks or, in cities, paper. This smaller method of smoking was called the papelote or cigarito. These smaller versions of cigars became much more popular thanks to their more affordable price and the cheaper production costs.
The cigarito caught on next with the French, who eventually changed the name to cigarette, creating the popular tobacco product we know today.