history of tobacco in north america

 In North America, the history of tobacco use precedes written records. After American Indians introduced tobacco to the European colonists, tobacco was
transported from the colonies to Europe, where it
quickly became a widely used consumer item. Just as
quickly, however, the use of tobacco became controversial. Critics of the day attacked tobacco use as
morally irresponsible, extravagant, and a habit of
people of base condition (Best 1979). In England, King
James I published an antitobacco tract in 1604 that,
among other things, offered an early critique of secondhand smoke: the royal author expressed his concerns that a husband who smoked might “reduce
thereby his delicate, wholesome, and cleane complexioned wife to that extremitie, that either shee must also
corrupt her sweete breath therewith, or else resolve to
live in a perpetuall stinking torment” (quoted in
Apperson 1916, p. 206). In many countries of northern Europe, tobacco use was criminalized (Best 1979).
Part of the objection in England and elsewhere was
that trading gold to Spain for tobacco—the best tobacco
came from Spain’s colonies—was dangerous to the
state economy. But with the English colonization of
Virginia and the growing need in England, and elsewhere in Europe, for more state revenue, governments
turned their policies around, despite continued moral
objections to tobacco use. 

King James I himself set
aside his previous objections and sought ways for the
crown to profit from the tobacco trade (Morgan 1975;
Best 1979).
Of all the novel consumer goods the New World
made available to the Old World, “tobacco enjoyed the
most rapid diffusion” (Shammas 1990, p. 80) among
people of different income levels, who bought it on
a fairly regular basis. Closer to the source, mass
consumption was even more pronounced: in the
American colonies during the 18th century, yearly consumption averaged between 2 and 5 pounds per capita
(Shammas 1990). When used medicinally, tobacco was
favorably regarded; but in its widespread use for pleasure, “it was considered harmful and faintly immoral”
(Morgan 1975, p. 91; see also Stewart 1967).
Historical Review 29

Surgeon General's Report
Although that reputation for immorality never
entirely vanished, by 1776, tobacco was not only a valued consumer good but also the economic foundation
of the colonies’ independence movement. “King
Tobacco Diplomacy” was a central element in gaining
French support for the struggling colonies; tobacco,
The Rise of the Cigarette
one historian reports, “helped to buy American independence” (Morgan 1975, p. 6). Thomas Jefferson
thought well enough of tobacco to propose that its
leaves be carved into the pillars in one of the Capitol
rotundas in Washington (U.S. House of Representatives 1969).

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