Columbus Discovers Tobacco: Oct. 15, 1492


When Christopher Columbus along with his crew arrived in the New World on the island he called San Salvador (modern Cuba) he meet natives who gave him such presents as wooden spears, fruit and strange dried leaves with strong aroma. Strangers eat the fruit, but throw away the leaves as they did not know how to use it.   After several weeks while exploring the island the crew saw natives smoking the same herb wrapped in palm leaves. Natives said that the leaves helped them to keep from getting hungry or tired.

The Spaniard Rodrigo de Jerez, who was in Columbus crew, tried tobacco and liked it. He is the first European who smoked tobacco. He took some seeds and brought them to Spain. He loved to smoke tobacco at home but his neighbors became upset at the sight of smoke around his head and told about this to authorities. These were times of Inquisition which declared that only the Devil could give a human the ability to puff out smoke from his mouth and sent Jerez to jail for 7 years.

However, monk named Ramon Pane from Spain, who in 1493 participated with Columbus in his second voyage across the Atlantic, also became fascinated with tobacco. He wrote descriptions of how the natives used it, how they smoked it in Y-shaped pipes. He took more seeds back to Spain and slowly smoking tobacco began to catch on.

In 1525 smoking was described as something that could refine the mind and provide happy thoughts. Moreover, tobacco was accepted as a wonder drug, and given to patients as a treatment for hysteria, headaches, hernia, colic, dysentery, worms, lockjaw, toothache, bad breath.

However, there were people who saw something dangerous in smoking. In 1604, James I, the King of England, called it “loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs.”

Czar Alexis of Russia in 1634 established new penalties for smoking. A first violation resulted in slitting of the person’s nose and whipping. A second violation resulted in execution. In China, the use of tobacco was made punishable by decapitation.

However, all these severe measures did not stop spread of tobacco popularity across the Europe. People used it in pipes and then, in 18th century in France, there was invented snuff which has to be inhaled through the nose.  Soon tobacco became a bigger part of European economies.

In the 20th century there were created cigarettes which caused a real revolution in tobacco industry. Between 1930 and 1979 the use of cigarettes in the USA almost tripled, increasing from 972 to 2,775 cigarettes per person per year.

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