Centuries in Smoke: The Origins of the Cigarette

by Edwin Estioko

 

Columbus and his men, their ships in the background, meet Indians bearing gifts.
Indians bring tobacco and other gifts.

 

Only a devil would have smoke come out of his mouth and nostrils.

That was the commonly held opinion of Europe in the 1500's - in a continent and at a time where no one knew what a cigar was and no one had ever puffed on a cigarette.

It also goes someway to explaining the uproar that was to occur when this brutal society first encountered tobacco.

The First Cigar

In the 1500’s, when the Inquisition imprisoned and tortured anyone on the slightest suspicion for witchcraft and devil worship, Rodrigo de Jerez lit and puffed the first cigar in Europe - and people thought he was possessed by the devil.

The Spanish Inquisition put him in jail.

Jerez was a European explorer along with Christopher Columbus, who might have also seen tobacco leaves in one of his journeys, although no historical records suggest that Columbus smoked.

Indians smoking in a Mayan village.Jerez landed in Cuba and was amazed to see the locals smoking tobacco leaves. It was he who first developed the habit, discovering the joy of smoking during months of lonesome voyages across the vast ocean. He brought heaps of Tobacco leaves to Spain and people learned to smoke while he was in prison for years.

Studies suggest that it was the Mayans who brought tobacco leaves and plants to Cuba and other countries in North and South America. They probably learned to chew and smoke tobacco leaves and mixed them with herbs for medicine as early as 1000 BC. The tobacco plant was a precious treasure for the civilization’s necessity and pleasure.

The pleasure it gave to man also caused it to spread, arriving in Central America around 6000 BC.

The Tobacco Plant Spreads

In the 1530’s, Europe began to colonize countries in the Caribbean which grew tobacco. Slowly and steadily, smoking was growing into large business.

Slowly and steadily, smoking was growing into large business.

However, it was several decades later before smoking became one of the most popular habits of the average European man. For this we owe thanks to Sir Walter Raleigh, a businessman who was able to bring tobacco smoking in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Raleigh travelled to the United States in 1586 and saw the huge tobacco plantations in Virginia, learning to smoke using a clay pipe from his friend, Ralph Lane, who was then the governor of Virginia. He introduced the pipe in the European market and became an instant hit.

Over the years, many Europeans travelled to Virginia and Americans to Europe to engage in this very lucrative venture. The Americans introduced the clay pipe which became very popular in Europe and France.

Today, millions of people around the world have smoking mouths and nostrils and millions of dollars worldwide are cashed in. The world has come long way since Jerez lit that first cigar in Spain and yet, today, many people still think smoking is the devil's own habit.

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