January 20, 2012

History of Smoking


Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Smoking is an ancient practice and it has been around nearly as long as humans themselves. Various cultures have smoked various plants around the world, but the use of tobacco for smoking can be traced back to South America as early as 3000-5000 BC. With such a long history of use, it is no wonder that tobacco smoking has been difficult to eradicate today, even if we know the ways in which it negatively impacts our health. Still, there is an important difference between tobacco use of the past and tobacco use of the present and understanding this difference gives some important insight into smoking cessation.

The original intent behind tobacco use was spiritual. Among South American aboriginals, smoking tobacco was highly ritualized and associated with shamanistic activities or royal ceremonies. By 1 BCE the use of tobacco for religious purposes was ubiquitous throughout South America with many indigenous tribes believing that smoking tobacco revealed their gods.  Each rising Empire in the Americas from the Mayans to the Aztecs had a place for tobacco in their religious practices, the Aztecs borrowing the concept from their Mayan forefathers. Aztecs at the royal court also smoked tobacco as a way concluding various ceremonies. Thus, the use of tobacco in its original contexts was a mixture of political and religious rites.

As time progressed, tobacco spread further and wider and became more commonplace and detached from it original political and spiritual purposes. Age the age of European exploration and Colonialism began with the likes of Magellan and Columbus, the meaning of the use of tobacco took on a new form, one for which it can be recognized today: a product to be marketed for monetary gain. Slowly but sure the use of tobacco spread to Europe and Asia, soon reaching to every far corner of the world. Cigarettes as we know them today arose in the early 20th century, cementing the fact that tobacco use had become a part of global industry and corporate greed. Any religious or political significance that tobacco smoking had held in the early Americas had now been reduced to marketing a bad habit to the public to in an effort to get more money. Even as the dangers of tobacco use became widely known, tobacco companies still work day and night to make their product attractive and available to the susceptive.

It is important to note that just because the early Americans used tobacco for religious and political purposes it does not mean that this was healthy or good for them to do. However, the intention behind the use of tobacco was different than today. It was highly ritualized and not just trite everyday habit. The early Americans did not mass market tobacco use and did not manufacture it as a means of exploiting people’s health in order to earn money. Modern tobacco smoking is a product of consumer culture and a combination of the incessant drive by Big Tobacco to make more money and people’s unwillingness to take control of their health and break unhealthy habits. If we look at the origins of tobacco use then we see that the reasons were smoking were very different that today and we can start to see how exploitative smoking really it. This doesn’t mean you should pick up a cigarette for spiritual purposes or as a means of worshipping God, but it does mean that you should be more mindful of the fact that smoking is engaging in a greedy global scam—and you have the power to break free from it if you make the decision to do so.