Tobacco Dangers Were Always There

Back in March the Surgeon General of the U.S. issued her newest report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults.  Her report cites the damage that tobacco usage is doing to their health: early cardiovascular damage, reduced lung function, increased chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  According to the report, one in three youth who continue smoking will die prematurely from smoking.  These grim health effects of tobacco are nothing new; reports and scientific papers as far back as the 1600s have given evidence to the dangers of tobacco use.

In 1602 an anonymous doctor published a work on the illness of chimney sweepers stating it was caused by soot and that “tobacco may have similar effects.”  And as quickly as it was written, a defense for tobacco was written in response.   During the 1600s, tobacco use spreads slowly throughout Europe and by the 1700s lung cancer is first described.

Tobacco isn’t just smoked anymore, it is ground up and “snuff” is inhaled up the nose.  Kings, queens and popes used it for its “medicinal” properties and it becomes an elitist enjoyment.  By 1730 America’s first tobacco factories began producing snuff in Virginia.  Fast forward thirty years and a clinical study by English physician John Hill is published warning about cancer of the nose for snuff users.  By the 1790s Dr. Hill is reporting actual cases of nasal cancer caused by snuff.  A German doctor also notes that pipe smoking causes lip cancer.

The practice of inhaling tobacco slowly disappears as Swedish immigrants bring over their practice of using tobacco by placing it inside the lip.  By 1828 nicotine is first isolated in a laboratory in its pure form and is considered a “dangerous poison.”  This news didn’t stop consumers from using tobacco.  By the mid 1800s chewing tobacco and cigars become the favorites.  Members of Congress using chew are provided spittoons, but they are missed more than hit, turning the carpet into stained mess.  Soldiers returning from the Mexican-American war bring home the darker tobacco found in Latin American countries and the cigar takes off.  In the U.S. during the Civil War tobacco rations are given to both the North and South, giving Northerners their first taste of southern tobacco and helping to spread the chewing tobacco habit.

In the 1870s cigarettes are still hand rolled and the smoking rate is at its lowest at 0.4 cigarettes per capita.  Lung cancer is still a rare disease with only 140 documented cases worldwide by the late 1880s but as smoking increases throughout the world lung cancer and other diseases spread.

Tobacco Timeline

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