07 November 2011

Tobacco--Puff, Chew, Snuff

by Jacquie Rogers

Tobacco is a plant native to Central and South America, migrating north with traders, eventually making its way to eastern Canada. Until Christopher Columbus and his crew introduced tobacco to Europe, the rest of the world was relatively nicotine-free. Nicotine (probably from belladonna or nicotiana africana) had ceremonial uses in Arabia and northern Africa, but wasn't a commonly consumed substance.

Leap ahead to 1492.

Christopher Columbus had no idea what the dried leaves were that the Arawaks gave him as one of the prized gifts, so he threw it overboard. A while later, crew members Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres described the method used for wrapping dried tobacco leaves, lighting the end, and sucking air through the roll. Jerez enjoyed smoking and is documented as Europe's first smoker.

Problem was, when he got home and the Spaniards saw him blow smoke from his mouth, they threw him in the slammer for seven years. When he finally gained his freedom, tobacco use was accepted and ubiquitous.

Catherine de Medici
For the next hundred years, the most popular forms of tobacco use were chew and snuff, although some did smoke cigars. Its use was considered medicinal and when Jean Nicot de Villemain sent snuff to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, to treat her migraine headaches, she decreed tobacco Herba Regina. Withing the next twenty years, tobacco was thought to cure everything from worms to cancer.

So is everyone smoking? Not quite. Chew and snuff still held most of the tobacco market share, with cigars holding their own at #3. Ah, but you knew someone would be using the pipe soon. England had sent a few people to Virginia Colony they returned smoking pipes, which everyone thought was cool. Pipes caught on quicker than hula-hoops.

In the late 1500s, Spain monopolized the tobacco market and it upset the balance of trade in Europe. Britain needed a variety of natural resources and, well, a little gold wouldn't hurt, either. Solution: the New World. They sent ships to what is now Virginia (and to New England, too) and Jamestown was born. Problem was, the colony was more expensive to support, not to mention the 80% fatality rate, than England got back. Just when the surviving colonists had boarded ship for home, John Rolfe showed up with some teensy little seeds in his pocket.

John Rolfe and Pocahontas
Within a decade, tobacco plantations were all over the place, worked mostly by indentured servants and African slaves. John Rolfe died in 1622 but the industry he established lived on, and even today the tobacco industry is important to the economy in the region. Tobacco subsidized the Revolutionary War, used as collateral for the loan from France.

When Charles II took the throne in 1660, he brought his snuff habit with him. Snuff was the drug of choice of the French aristocracy and soon spread through the English aristocracy as well, and this trend held through the next century and more. Charlotte, King George III's wife, was especially fond of it and Napolean used 7 pounds of snuff a month. Achoo!

Back to the American colonies: Pierre Lorillard's processing plant in New York City packaged snuff, pipe tobacco, and rolled cigars. P. Lorillard is still in business. From Lorillard, About Us:
Lorillard, Inc., through its Lorillard Tobacco Company subsidiary, is the third largest manufacturer of cigarettes in the United States. Founded in 1760, Lorillard is the oldest continuously operating tobacco company in the United States.

Bull Durham loose tobacco
 During the 1700s, several surgeons reported health risks. John Hill said snuff could cause cancer of the nose, Benjamin Rush said that smoking or chewing tobacco leads to drunkenness. Not many paid heed to these warnings. From Historian.org:
1762: General Israel Putnam introduces cigar-smoking to the US. After a British campaign in Cuba, "Old Put" returns with three donkey-loads of Havana cigars; introduces the customers of his Connecticut brewery and tavern to cigar smoking (BD)
In the 1800s, cigar use prevailed. When cigars weren't available, the roll-your-own cigarettes had to make do. When you think of the Old West, you think of Stetson hats, Arbuckles Coffee, and Bull Durham tobacco [Delbert Trew]. But when the cowhands got to town, they still wanted a fine cigar. Chewing was still popular, too, and in 1890 US residents chewed three pounds of tobacco per capita a year.

Pall Mall ad, 1926
It should be mentioned that the Women's Temerance Movement had tobacco on their hit list because it dried the mouth and made men crave alcohol.

For the sake a brevity, we'll skip ahead. Cigarettes had never been the most popular form of tobacco use. But in World War I, the soldiers received cigarette rations, and when they came home, a huge percentage were addicted. Bull Durham advertises, "When our boys light up, the Huns will light out." [Historian.org]

Joan Crawford
 Cigarette smoking became prevalent, and, in the Roaring Twenties, even women started smoking. The flappers delighted in long-stemmed cigarette holders, considered quite chic. "I'd Walk a Mile for a Camel" successfully advertised Camel cigarettes, a slogan used for decades. To compete, Marlboro was introduced as a woman's cigarette, "Mild as May." Lucky Strikes targetted women, also, using female stars of the day as spokeswomen. Many other brands that still exist today were introduced in the 1920s.

By 1939, 66% of the men under age 40 smoked. In World War II, the troops were again provided with cigarettes in their rations. Everyone puffed happily away, but the health risks were piling up. Many of the most popular television shows were sponsored by tobacco companies. Magazine ads showed doctors testifying that the advertised brand was the healthiest. In 1954, the Marlboro Cowboy was introduced. Marlboro cigarettes had a .25% market share at the time, probably one of the most successful ad campaigns ever.

Marlboro Man
But in the 1950s, the lawsuits from those adversely affected by tobacco started rolling in. Scientific evidence against smoking piled up. In the 1960s, reports of cigarettes causing lung cancer came from everywhere, including the US Surgeon General. Still, tobacco companies denied the risks and battled in the courts to deny culpability in tobacco user's ills. In 1969, cigarette ads were banned from the airwaves.

Just when you think cigarette-smoking might abate, Virginia Slims comes out for women, advertising, "You've come a long way, baby." At the same time, health warnings had to be printed prominently on cigarette packages. And Joe Camel swept on the scene. At one time, Joe Camel was the second-most recognized animated character by schoolchildren, right behind #1, Mickey Mouse.

Currently, smoking is prohibited in public buildings in nearly all states, and where I live, smoking is very politically-incorrect, even in private. The cost is steep, both in cigarette prices and in health risks. John Rolfe made it possible to finance the Revolutionary War, but it sure would have been healthier for all of us if he could've done it with maize instead of tobacco.

American Tobacco
Lorillard, Inc.
North Carolina State University

Jacquie Rogers writes quirky, magical romances. Available now are:
Western historical romance, MUCH ADO ABOUT MARSHALS
Contemporary western, DOWN HOME EVER LOVIN' MULE BLUES
Multi-era faery story, FAERY SPECIAL ROMANCES

She's owner of Romancing The West, featuring the best of the Old West--romance, traditional, we love it all.