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History of Tobacco Smoking: A Volatile Journey Through Time

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    How was the first cigarette invented?

    Smoking has a diverse history. People have been smoking for thousands of years, using pipes, bongs, and hookahs. Chewing or snuffing tobacco were also standard practices. However, the first people who started rolling cigars were the Spanish; and it was poor female workers who began producing smaller versions, known as ‘cigaritos.’ The French adopted this practice and called their products ‘cigarettes.’

    The history of tobacco smoking is a volatile journey full of colorful traditions, spiritual revelations, and health regulations. Smoking is as old as civilization, and that’s not a cliche. Tobacco has been known in the Americas for more than thousands of years. But how did this plant conquered the world?

    Ancient Times

    The Americas

    It’s believed that the first people who came across with the magical properties of tobacco were the Asian people who came in one migratory wave and spread across the Americas. Human curiosity is more than natural, and over 2000 years ago, pushed by their need for exploring the world, people in the Andes Mountains started chewing tobacco leaves. That was considered as a spiritual practice because people who used tobacco could easily reach a state of stupor. On top of that, tobacco was widely used due to its medical and harvesting properties. Shamans used it to spread prosperity, fertility, and peace. The most common method was smoking a pipe.

    Ancient Egypt

    Far from the Americas, another major civilization couldn’t stay away from the mystical properties of smoking. Experts still do not know how tobacco smoking started in Egypt, but there’s evidence that tobacco had been used even in the era of the Pharaohs. Incenses were widely employed in rituals and ceremonies.

    Ancient Europe

    Ancient Greece and Rome were also fascinated by smoking, and although tobacco was still not so common, some of the ingredients used by doctors and philosophers were opium, Valerian, and marijuana. Bone marrows and clay pipes were the primary devices used for smoking.

    Ancient Asia

    Just like Ancient Europe, the Middle East and Southern Asia were also known for marijuana smoking, while East Asia had inclinations towards opium smoking. Hookahs, bongs, pipes, and chillums were the main methods people used to smoke. Note that it was Persia where hookahs were invented: they varied from fine pieces of art through coconuts and bamboo parts.

    Middle Ages

    The Americas

    While there’s not much information about tobacco smoking in the Ancient World, we should admit that the Middle Ages didn’t shed more light on the topic. Not surprisingly, this period is known as the Dark Ages. At least, there’s one journey that changed history and put a start of the Age of Discovery. In 1492, Columbus discovered a whole new universe: the universe of tobacco and smoking.

    Although Christian practitioners claimed that smoking and its euphoric effects were satanic, tobacco use spread so quickly that in 1531 people started growing tobacco in Europe. Doctors believed in its cleansing properties and used it as analgesic and antiseptic. In 1560, Jean Nicot introduced smoking to France, and in fact, it’s believed that the word ‘nicotine’ derives from his surname.


    However, when we hear the word ‘smoking,’ we associate it with pleasure. Isn’t that right? The first cigarette of the day and the initial kick of adrenaline. Well, it was Sir Walter Raleigh who popularized tobacco smoking as a pleasurable habit across England. As tobacco became a favorite product of many, tobacco became a leading participant in the colonial industry. English loved their pipes, Spanish preferred their cigars, and the French couldn’t resists their snuffs.


    Colonialism and its impact on slave trade can be described as a symbolic continuation of the Dark Ages. However, colonialism twisted today’s perceptions of globalism. As mentioned earlier, England accepted smoking as a joyful habit, so having a colony meant more tobacco supply. Some tea from China and India, and some tobacco from America – England had it all. John Rolfe was the first one to cultivate successfully Nicotiana tobaccum, which was shipped to the UK in 1613.

    Tobacco trade spread not only in America and Europe but Africa and the rest of the world. In a matter of fact, tobacco became popular within the Japanese society in no time, and Samurai knights had even silver pipes to smoke it. It’s curious to mention that Japanese also had an incense tray, which became today’s ashtray.


    It was inevitable and smoking practices changed dramatically. As stated earlier, the Spanish loved their hand-rolled cigars, so the Spanish tobacco industry thrived and offered their rolled products to the world. Not surprisingly, high demand meant high prices. So it was the smaller hand-made versions of cigars, made by poor single women, that became the first known cigarettes. The French adopted the Spanish word ‘cigarito’ and transformed it in ‘cigarette.’ In fact, by 1830, the French started manufacturing modern cigarettes.

    Modern History

    Later on, James Bonsack patented a machine that could produce 200 cigarettes a minute, eliminating the need for workers. It wasn’t only the new techniques, though. Something else changed history and history of smoking in particular: advertising. As tobacco smoking started in America, it was the U.S. that began promoting tobacco products. Thus, made on a conveyor and advertised, cigarettes became highly in demand throughout the world. For women, cigarettes were seen as ‘torches of freedom’ because they empowered their social roles.

    Around the same time, doctors started to realize that tobacco smoking correlated with lung cancer and other health problems. Even before that, doctors linked smoking with lip cancer, but it was around the 20’s when the first studies and reports appeared – something that caused a war between science and advertising media, a war that cost millions of dollars.


    Nowadays, smoking is still a favorite habit of many. Data shows that only in the U.S., more than 36.5 million people over 18 smoke cigarettes. Although anti-smoking campaigns and new regulations try to decrease these numbers, people across the globe – regardless of religion, age, and gender – smoke. We should mention that vaping is today’s competitor that complicates the phenomenon of smoking.

    To sum up, tobacco smoking is an old habit practiced across ancient civilizations and powerful empires. On top of that, tobacco companies are giants that slowly crash health regulations and anti-smoking laws.

    One thing is for sure: tobacco has been and will always be available. So it’s up to you: would you take part in its dangerous journey or would you enjoy a smoke-free life?

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      Tobacco Vs. Weed: What Causes the Greater Risk?

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        Long-term tobacco use and smoke exposure can demonstrably have adverse effects on your health. In fact, according to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the country. It is reported that cigarette smoking causes more than 480, 000 deaths in the U.S., which is nearly one in every five deaths. CDC also reports that smoking causes more deaths each year than deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents, alcohol use, illegal drug use, HIV, and firearm-related incidents combined! However, the fast-growing initiative towards marijuana legalization in the U.S. has strengthened the interest in the overlay of marijuana use and tobacco, and their potential impacts on health. In this old-age debate between marijuana and tobacco, we take a look at the interesting facts about marijuana and tobacco smoking.

        Marijuana Smoke Vs. Tobacco Smoke

        When it comes to smoking, studies suggest that tobacco is by far more harmful to the lungs than weed. According to CDC, cigarette smoking causes about 80% of all deaths from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD). On the other hand, weed smoke exposure appears to cause little COPD risk. There is a lack of evidence that connects to any form of chronic inflammation. In the Journal of Harm Reduction, 2005, cannabis researcher argued that, even though both tobacco and cannabis possess similar chemical properties, the two aren’t equally carcinogenic and certainly possess different pharmacological activities. Specifically, the researchers argued that while is proven to be highly carcinogenic, cannabis contain multiple cannabinoids—many of which possess anti-cancer properties, a certain study notes. So, while weed smoke minimize some carcinogenic pathways, tobacco smoke boosts them. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that there is zero (0) marijuana attributable deaths compared to tobacco (480, 000), alcohol (25, 692), prescribed painkillers overdose (16, 651), and non-prescription drug overdoses (16, 651).

        Tobacco Vs. Weed and Addiction

        Tobacco is highly addictive since it contains chemical nicotine. Like cocaine or heroin, chemical nicotine changes the way a smoker’s brain works and causes cravings. It is believed that this addiction to nicotine is what makes it so difficult to stop smoking tobacco. Some studies also claim that nicotine in tobacco may harden the arteries making it responsible for some heart-related conditions caused by tobacco. Conversely, weed doesn’t contain nicotine, and therefore the number of addiction cases are far less compared to tobacco. In fact, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse, Marijuana doesn’t lead to addiction; it is only responsible for a condition termed as ‘marijuana use disorder’ which may take the form of addiction in severe cases.

        Tobacco’s Nicotine Vs. Weed’s THC

        As seen, the adverse health effects of nicotine are well evidenced. In comparison, THC or tetrahydrocannabinol (the chemical compound responsible for cannabis’ psychological effects) is said to have a number of health benefits. Some studies also claim that THC is a bronchial dilator meaning it has an ability to open up the lungs and aid in clearance of dirt and smoke.

        Tobacco Vs. Weed and Cancer

        Tobacco is regarded as the number one cause of cancer and cancer fatalities. Tobacco use and smoke exposure may cause many types of cancer including lung cancer, rectum, cervix, colon, pancreas, stomach, liver, kidney, bladder, throat, esophagus, and mouth. National Cancer Institute notes that there is no safe level of tobacco use. There are thousands of studies that link tobacco to various types of cancer, such as lung, liver, and mouth cancers. But in comparison, studies have so far failed to find a connection between weed smoke exposure and smoking-related cancers such as lung and liver. Actually, several studies (such as this and this) have demonstrated that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis may be anti-carcinogenic.

        Tobacco Vs. Weed and Pulmonary Function

        There is an abundance of research that connects exposure to cigarette smoke, whether actively or passively, to a higher risk of lung cancer in adults, and with increased frequency of respiratory infections and symptoms in children. However, there is no credible evidence that associates cannabis smoke and adverse effects on pulmonary function. Emory University in Atlanta conducted a study to determine if cannabis smoke leads to detrimental effects on pulmonary function. According to their findings, exposure to marijuana smoke, even for extended periods, is not associated with detrimental effects on the lung functioning.

        Bottom Line

        Based on the myriad of studies presented in this post, it is quite clear to users that marijuana regulations are not “for their own good.” There are no reliable studies that link weed and unfavorable health effects as is the case in tobacco smoking. Moreover, for most of the human existence, cannabis has been considered a medicine and therefore, restrictions, as those existing in New York and Minnesota, unnecessarily deny people what could be another medical option.

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