Up In Smoke: The History Of Tobacco

By | January 12, 2019

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Field of Tobacco. Source: (commons.wikimedia.org)

Tobacco, known scientifically as Nicotiana tabacum of the Nicotiana genus, is closely related to nightshade, a genus known for its poisonous species. Therefore, the devastating effects of tobacco use on the human body should come as no surprise. However, for years, tobacco use was not only considered safe, but it was actually considered to be medicinal.

The history of tobacco as it is known today dates back to the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Columbus was welcomed by the Native Americans with a variety of gifts, including dried tobacco leaves. The Native Americans had been smoking the leaves for years during religious ceremonies and for medical uses, and often used the leaves for bartering. However, the explorers originally thought the leaves useless and threw them overboard.  

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Man smoking. Source: (todayifoundout.com)

One of Columbus’s men, Rodrigo de Jerez, is thought to be the first European to develop a smoking habit. He took the habit back to Europe with him where he was arrested and imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, who were terrified by the sight of Jerez with smoke coming out of his mouth. However, this did not prevent the practice of smoking from spreading throughout Spain and Portugal. Sailors planted it around their trading outposts and shortly thereafter began growing it commercially in Brazil and trading it in both the Americas and Europe. Eventually, it spread as far as Queen Elizabeth’s court and reports claim that the queen herself indulged in the habit. By 1600, it was being grown in the colonies and traded worldwide.