Tobacco had already long been used in the Americas when European settlers arrived and introduced the practice to Europe, where it became popular. At high doses, tobacco can become hallucinogenic; accordingly, Native Americans never used the drug recreationally. Instead, it was often consumed as an entheogen; among some tribes, this was done only by experienced shamans or medicine men.
“In ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save
humanity. As she travelled over the world everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And verywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And in the place where she had sat, there grew tobacco.” Huron Indian myth “The Spaniards upon their journey met with great multitudes of people, men and women with firebrands in their hands and herbs to smoke after their custom.”
Christopher Columbus’ journal, 6 November 1492
“Smoking is a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the
black, stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.”
James I of England A Counterblaste to Tobacco 1604
“I say, if you can’t send money, send tobacco.”
first US President George Washington’s request to help finance the American Civil War, 1776
Within 150 years of Columbus’s finding “strange leaves” in the New World, tobacco was being used around the globe. Its rapid spread and widespread acceptance characterise the addiction to the plant Nicotina tobacum. Only the mode of delivery has changed. In the 18th century, snuff held sway; the 19th century was the age of the cigar; the 20th century saw the rise of the manufactured cheap cigarette, and with it a greatly increased number of smokers.
At the beginning of the 21st century about one third of adults in the world, including increasing numbers of women, used tobacco. Despite thousands of studies showing that tobacco in all its forms kills its users, and smoking cigarettes kills non-users, people continue to smoke, and deaths from tobacco use continue to increase.