The History of Cigarettes

Cigarettes are small cylinders filled with tobacco leaves that have been finely cut along with a long list of other ingredients. These cut leaves are contained in paper. They are easily recognizable, partially due to both the positive and negative exposure that they have received over the years. In modern times cigarettes are mired in concerns about their safety for the smoker and the danger that second-hand smoke presents to those around them. The addictive nature of the nicotine that is found in tobacco also raises concerns, as does the various carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. However, in the fairly recent past, cigarettes used to be seen as symbols of glamour and had represented status and wealth. During that time smoking was a popular pastime and it was even encouraged. The tobacco found in cigarettes has had a long history in the United States, and even before the creation of cigarettes they were used by various indigenous people for a variety of religious or ceremonial purposes.


When learning about cigarettes it is necessary to begin by understanding the origin of the tobacco plant, which can be traced back as far as 6000 B.C. in Central America. By 1 B.C. the plant had spread throughout the Americas and it was commonly used by the Indigenous people in a number of different ways and for a number of different purposes. The natives found that they could chew the plant, smoke it in pipes, and even use tobacco enemas. This was done for religious, ceremonial and even medicinal purposes. When Columbus landed in the New World, he and his crew witnessed the Taino and Arawak people smoking the tobacco and were even given leaves. Members of his crew tried and enjoyed the experience and eventually took tobacco home with them. Although it originally unnerved some people to see smoke coming from the mouths and nostrils of people who smoked it, smoking quickly became popular and throughout the 1500s and 1600s began to spread through Europe. Although Europeans had begun to cultivate tobacco in Central America in the mid-1500s, it wasn’t until 1612 that the first commercial crop of tobacco was grown in Virginia by John Rolfe. Tobacco crops at the time were so prosperous that they became key to economic growth. It was used as currency and would continue to be used in that manner for the following 200 years.


Cigarettes as well as cigars began to surface during the Civil War to fulfill the need for portable means of smoking. Because of the lack of slave labor following the War, the cigarette machine was invented to help create cigarettes and increase production. By 1913, despite an anti-cigarette campaign, the modern cigarette was introduced to society. This was the popular Camel brand of cigarettes and it was released by RJ Reynolds.


Around the late 1930s the initial link between cancer and smoking began to surface, with major reports on the topic released in the 50s. Despite these concerns, aggressive marketing campaigns resulted in an increase in the number of people who smoked during the 20th century, including women who were targeted by glamorizing the habit. This increase took place primarily between the early 1930s and the late 1970s. In fact, during World War I and World War II soldiers were even given rations of cigarettes. In 1964, however, the United States Surgeon General released a report that stated smoking caused men to develop lung cancer. As a result more attention began to focus on the negative effects of smoking and cigarette smoke.


In recent times, tobacco and cigarette companies have made efforts to be more responsible in their advertising methods. Laws have been created to ensure that people under a certain age do not have access to cigarettes, and there have even been efforts to create nicotine-free cigarettes and electric cigarettes. Despite the wide-spread knowledge of the dangers associated with smoking, however, many still continue to smoke today. In addition to lung cancer, smoking can cause birth defects, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and infertility. It causes approximately 443,000 deaths per year in the United States.


For more information on the history of smoking and tobacco, please read the following links.