Why Smoking …?

Apothecary smoking pipe
“Apothecary smoking pipe” by Adriaen van Ostade – Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun (2004) Smoke.

Smoking is a practice in which a substance is burned and the resulting smoke breathed in to be tasted and absorbed into the bloodstream. Most commonly the substance is the dried leaves of the tobacco plant which have been rolled into a small square of rice paper to create a small, round cylinder called a “cigarette”. Smoking is primarily practiced as a route of administration for recreational drug use because the combustion of the dried plant leaves vaporizes and delivers active substances into the lungs where they are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and reach bodily tissue.The history of smoking dates back to as early as 5000 BC in shamanistic rituals. Many ancient civilizations, such as the Babylonians, Indians and Chinese, burnt incense as a part of religious rituals, as did the Israelites and the later Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches. Smoking in the Americas probably had its origins in the incense-burning ceremonies of shamans but was later adopted for pleasure, or as a social tool. The smoking of tobacco, as well as various hallucinogenic drugs was used to achieve trances and to come into contact with the spirit world.

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. The demand quickly grew as tobacco, referred to as “golden weed”, revived the Virginia join stock company from its failed gold expeditions.

A Frenchman named Jean Nicot (from whose name the word nicotine is derived) introduced tobacco to France in 1560. From France tobacco spread to England. The first report of a smoking Englishman is of a sailor in Bristol in 1556, seen “emitting smoke from his nostrils”. Like tea, coffee and opium, tobacco was just one of many intoxicants that was originally used as a form of medicine.

With the modernization of cigarette production compounded with the increased life expectancy during the 1920s, adverse health effects began to become more prevalent. In Germany, anti-smoking groups, often associated with anti-liquor groups, first published advocacy against the consumption of tobacco in the journal Der Tabakgegner (The Tobacco Opponent) in 1912 and 1932.

In the UK and the USA, an increase in lung cancer rates, formerly “among the rarest forms of disease”, was noted by the 1930s, but its cause remained unknown and even the credibility of this increase was sometimes disputed as late as 1950. For example, in Connecticut, reported age-adjusted incidence rates of lung cancer among males increased 220% between 1935–39 and 1950-54. In the UK, the share of lung cancer among all cancer deaths in men increased from 1.5% in 1920 to 19.7% in 1947.

From 1965 to 2006, rates of smoking in the United States have declined from 42% to 20.8%. A significant majority of those who quit were professional, affluent men. Despite this decrease in the prevalence of consumption, the average number of cigarettes consumed per person per day increased from 22 in 1954 to 30 in 1978. This paradoxical event suggests that those who quit smoked less, while those who continued to smoke moved to smoke more light cigarettes.

Today Russia leads as the top consumer of tobacco followed by Indonesia, Laos, Ukraine, Belarus, Greece, Jordan, and China. The World Health Organization has begun a program known as the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI) in order to reduce rates of consumption in the developing world.

 

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