The history of tobacco
Tobacco has been smoked since ancient times. In the pre-Colombian era tobacco smoking was deeply rooted in the customs, culture and religious rituals of all the native ethnic groups. When Christopher Columbus and his crew landed on San Salvador Island in 1492, they noted that many of the natives were holding a sort of stick in their hand, lit at one end, and were inhaling the smoke from the other end. During the 16th century, tobacco spread from the New World into Europe. It appears certain that it was grown for the first time in the royal gardens in Lisbon in 1558, and that the French ambassador Jean Nicot sent the seeds from Portugal to France towards 1560.
Initially, this new “American grass” was mainly used for medicinal purposes, since it was believed to cure numerous ills, which is why it became the preserve of pharmacists. It was used to fight plague, gastric ulcers and lung infections; sores were believed to become less virulent once they were smoked, and tobacco was reputed to be a miracle cure for tooth decay.
During the 17th century, tobacco’s reputation as a medicinal herb gradually waned, and it began to be used for pleasure, in forms that varied according to social status: soldiers chewed it, officers smoked it in a pipe, aristocrats held it up to their nostrils to savour the aroma. In the 18th century, any middle-class man who aspired to become a true gentleman had to have a nose for tobacco, and finely crafted gold snuffboxes became very much a status symbol of the period.
In the first half of the 19th century, cigars – initially smoked only by the Spanish - became extremely fashionable in drawing rooms throughout Europe.
This century also saw the spread of cigarette smoking, which became increasingly popular in Europe after the Crimean War, when the soldiers returned home with little paper cylinders filled with tobacco. In the early days, cigarettes were made by hand; it was not until 1880 that the first mechanical cigarette rolling machine was introduced in the United States.
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