Smoking Tobacco

By John Paul Jarvis

This is not about personal piety. I venerate Hunter S. Thompson.

As a child I was baffled by the act of smoking. Lighting up, absurd in its performance and so dangerously addicting, appeared pointless to a three-year-old.

I knew with certainty that smoking wasn’t right. Recall that it was a youngster who blurted out “the Emperor has no clothes” in Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 classic.

The first recorded health warning came from a German scientist, Fritz Lickint in 1929. In a published paper and supported by formal statistical data, he linked smoking and lung cancer.

An anti smoking lobby emanated from Dresden. Although visionary, this movement in post war Germany was quashed by American beneficence.

I was impressed by the long-range retribution of the Marshall Plan; the United States, a producer, shipped free tobacco to Germany; with 24,000 tons in 1948 and 69,000 tons in 1949. Per capita yearly cigarette consumption in post war Germany steadily rose from 460 in 1950 to 1,523 in 1963. Ironically, this is the same strategy used by cartels to embed illicit drugs in the USA. What goes around comes around, I guess.

The tobacco plant, nicotiana, was named in honor of Jean Nicot, French ambassador to Portugal. Nicot sent tobacco, as a medicine, to the Court of Catherine de’ Medici in 1560. Tobacco soon flourished in England. Like tea, coffee and opium, tobacco was just one of many intoxicants introduced as a form of medicine that quickly became world commodities.

In 1612, six years after the settlement of Jamestown, John Rolfe was credited as the first settler to successfully raise tobacco as a cash crop. An industry was born that sustains until today.

At the same time Moroccan caravans brought tobacco to Timbuktu and the Portuguese brought the commodity (and the plant) to southern Africa, establishing the popularity of tobacco throughout all of Africa by the 1650s.

Tobacco has a long history of ceremonial use in Native American cultures, playing an important role in the political, economic and cultural history of both North and South America. The plant is indigenous in varieties throughout most of the Continent.

Tobacco is perfectly engineered as a nicotine delivery device for the blended active substances triggered by combustion, producing chemical reactions in nerve endings that heighten heart rate, memory, alertness and reaction time. Dopamine and endorphins, linked with pleasure, are released.

Men smokers outnumber women but there is an alarming shrinkage in the gender gap within the youngest group, teenagers. Lower income and the poor are more likely to smoke, targeting this demographic solely, and making the only growth market for tobacco the third world. It’s always been a tough business.


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