There is a heck of a lot of things rattling around in my head regarding the ongoing saga in the media about vapour products/e-cigarettes, whatever you wish to call them. Having recently reached a pretty handy milestone in being off combustible tobacco for a year, I’ve had a look back over the general thread of my vaping life and my participation in activism and advocacy, and I’m trying to understand a few things. Maybe this post will give my brain the help it needs. The question is, where to begin?
I suppose the beginning is as good a place as any, and it all starts with our dearly beloved nicotiana tabacum, or cultivated tobacco. When looking into the history of tobacco, there’s going to be plenty of sources. JTI have some, Wikipedia has some, as do many other places. The trouble is with any historical account, the writing is generally that of the author and not necessarily that which occurred, some records indicate that the tobacco plant appeared around 6000 BCE and apparently around 1 BCE the Americans found ways of using it either by smoking it, chewing or via hallucinogenic enemas (apparently). Sometime between 600 CE and 1000 CE the first pictorial depiction of smoking appeared, apparently the Mayas were avid smokers, who knew? They also had their own word for it – sik’ar, which may have led to the development of the modern-day word – cigar.
Of course, most history buffs will tell you that in 1492 that dear ol’ Christopher Columbus “discovered” tobacco, albeit not strictly true he was gifted some of the tobacco leaf by the natives when he landed at San Salvador, which he apparently later threw away, only to later mention tobacco again stating that the dried leaves have a high value to the natives. It wasn’t until members of his crew, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres that smoking became a term or past-time. They reported that the natives wrapped dried tobacco leaves in palm or maize “in the manner of a musket formed of paper.” After lighting one end, they commenced “drinking” the smoke through the other. Jerez became a confirmed smoker, and is thought to be the first outside of the Americas. He brought the habit back to his hometown, but the smoke billowing from his mouth and nose so frightened his neighbors he was imprisoned by the holy inquisitors for 7 years. By the time he was released, smoking was a Spanish craze.
It wouldn’t be until the 1500’s that smoking started gaining prevalence, mainly with sailors and we can thank the Portuguese for that as they planted tobacco wherever they could, and sure enough the tobacco plantations were born. One little snippet on tobacco from the past caught my eye:
1577: ENGLAND: MEDICINE: Frampton translates Monardes into English. European doctors look for new cures–tobacco is recommended for toothache, falling fingernails, worms, halitosis, lockjaw & cancer.
Yep, trust the English. Our 16th Century doctors were looking to tobacco to ‘cure’ all kinds of ailments. Bear in mind that at this point in history, the dear ol’ tobacco leaf was smoked on its own, usually wound and bound, occasionally it’s be wrapped in some kind of paper, but the key thing here is that there wasn’t anything else added, that occurred around 1620 thanks to our Spanish friends who are credited with setting up the first tobacco processing plant.
1624: REGULATION: POPE URBAN VIII threatens excommunication for snuff users; sneezing is thought too close to sexual ecstasy
1628: REGULATION: SHAH SEFI punishes two merchants for selling tobacco by pouring hot lead down their throats.
That’s a bit more extreme than the regulations of the modern-day for sure, but it would seem the anti-tobacco zealotry and insanity was rife even during the 17th Century, I mean come on; sneezing is thought to be too close to sexual ecstasy seriously?
1632: SMOKEFREE: MASSACHUSETTS forbids public smoking
Of course, it would be the Americans that would be the first to forbid something, thanks for that by the way. Of course, they were not the only ones adverse to the humble tobacco leaf; King James I penned a polemic entitled “A Counterblaste to Tobacco” and is seemingly the first anti-tobacco publication. It seems that in 1939, the health effects of tobacco were beginning to become known in the US with the first reported link between smoking and lung cancer. 1941 saw a poignant piece entitled ‘Nicotine Knockout, or Slow Count to Cancer’, again from the US, although the Germans beat them with identifying a link between pipe smoking and lip cancer in 1795.
A review of history does show that whilst tobacco smoking was indeed welcomed by many, there was already a zealotry anti-tobacco movement albeit not as fanatical as we have in the modern-day. You’re probably wondering why I went back in time several hundred years, well I hope it will all become clear.
It is of course well-known to us that tobacco is hardly benign, what struck me most when looking into the history of tobacco is how divisive tobacco was. These divides brought about the groups that are increasingly persistent and incredibly annoying today. ASH, BLF, BHF, WHO and all the others in the alphabet soup. Shockingly, ASH (US) formed in 1967 and in 1972 tobacco commercials were banned on the airwaves. In five years, one zealotry group had imposed their will on the US Government to forcibly ban commercial advertising on US Radio. On the other hand, ASH UK formed in 1971, with Wales and Scotland forming later (1976 and 1973), but it took them far longer to impose their will on the UK Government.
What does this have with vaping I hear you cry? Well, a lot actually. You see, looking through history has proven to be highly informative and enlightening. The first punishments, bans and legislations paved the way for the increasingly nannying nature of modern-day tobacco control. It also gave me a rare insight into something else entirely; addiction.
The WHO claim, quite clearly on the tobacco atlas, that tobacco is addictive and they “prove” this fact by indicating that within 150 years, tobacco use became widespread, but they only refer to cultivated tobacco (nicotiana tabacum) and not Nicotiana the actual plant. however looking through the full history from multiple sources there is no indication of any such addiction. Habit forming sure, but not what any scientist could class as an addiction. A dependence? It’s possible as the natives of the New World were often seen by the intrepid European explorers with the tobacco leaves. On the average, people smoked about 40 cigarettes a year. Think about that for a second.
Forty cigarettes per year. Not forty a day, but a year. Would hardly class that as an addiction. Yet the tobacco plant contains nicotine. Reports indicate that the distribution of the nicotine in the mature plant is widely variable: 64% of the total nicotine exists in the leaves, 18% in the stem, 13% in the root, and 5% in the flowers. So if good ol’ Nick O’Teen is so addictive, why were the first smokers only puffing through forty per year?
This brings me neatly to my next point and is something I firmly believe in that nicotine on its own is not addictive. Typically, the majority of research into nicotine and any effects it may have is a result of researching smoking or tobacco. I spotted an article earlier which prompted this line of thought and my trip down memory lane as the professionals involved are pretty adamant about nicotine being addictive:
Dr Padma Raju Varry, Head of the Department of Specialist Psychiatry at NMC Speciality Hospital, Abu Dhabi, says that while e-cigarettes reduce the harmful effects of carcinogens of carbon and tobacco, they still keep smokers enslaved to the pleasure of puffing.
“Vaping or inhaling nicotine vapours from e-cigarettes does not help smokers get off the habit. Majority of users of e-cigarettes are youngsters who actually end up vaping and actual smoking cigarettes because, like tobacco, nicotine dependency is a well established medical fact. There is addiction and craving at a cellular level.
Trouble is, with so much murky history lost in obscurity or coloured by bias it is difficult to be sure if my own thoughts on this are indeed accurate or not, but the figure of forty cigarettes per year would suggest that the addiction to smoking and/or nicotine is and always has been utter bunkem. Of course, all history is open to interpretation and the history of tobacco is no different, just with the ongoing crusade it makes it that bit harder to find reliable historical evidence.
Smoking, demonstrated by the Mayas, planted by the Portuguese, processed by the Spanish, used as cures by the English, health concerns discovered by the Germans and the first bans implemented by the Americans. Is history set to repeat itself?