Tobacco is a plant native to the Americas, and it is believed to have been first used in society around 1 BC. Indigenous North Americans used tobacco for both religious and medicinal purposes. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries when Europeans went to the Americas, tobacco was used in trade and was taken back to Europe to grow. Tobacco became popular and by the 18th century, companies were being established in America to process tobacco into cigars and snuff. Early 19th century scientists discovered the chemical nicotine and concluded it was indeed dangerous. However, this did not stop the growing popularity of tobacco. During the First World War cigarettes became known as the ‘soldier’s smoke’. Multiple tobacco companies vying for customers began to market specifically men’s cigarettes, and women’s cigarettes, with smoking rates in female teenagers tripling between 1925 and 1935.
Health Risks Revealed
The pinnacle of the tobacco industry’s power seems to be during the Second World War when cigarettes were included as rations, and after receiving them free in the war, soldiers returning home were hooked. Tobacco’s associated health concerns were finally discovered in the 1950s, and with the 1964 Surgeon General’s “Smoking and Health” report, its time was coming to a close. In the latter half of the 20th century, government regulations on tobacco advertising contributed to the dramatic reduction of smokers in places like the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia. However, it must be noted that just because Westerners have seen a substantial change, does not mean that tobacco companies have faded to the background. These companies have vastly expanded in poorer and less educated areas of the world like parts of Asia and continue to advertise and hook young people for life. It is also in these poorer countries that young child workers can develop ‘green tobacco sickness’ from picking wet tobacco leaves.
Current Tobacco Consumption Statistics
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that tobacco kills more than 7 million people annually worldwide. Almost a million of those deaths are non-smokers who succumb to the effects of second-hand smoke. The National Institute for Health (NIH) in the USA estimates that without the widespread scientific information on how harmful tobacco is, there would be 80 million American smokers instead of 45 million. Cigarette smoking is still the greatest preventable cause of premature death in the USA, accounting for 1 out of every 5 deaths, 87% of lung cancer deaths, and 30% of all cancer deaths. Both WHO and NIH credit bold public health campaigns for the dramatic reduction in new smokers, and the rise of current smokers quitting.
There are many approaches to recovery from nicotine addiction. Behavioural changes in combination with medication therapies can help smokers develop alternate strategies to manage stress and cravings. Nicotine is powerfully addictive however, and so up to 80% of smokers who try to quit will relapse within 6 months. This is especially true of people with mental illness or other addictions. These people purchase almost half of all cigarettes in the USA. 80% of people with alcohol issues, and 90% of people with schizophrenia smoke. There are many over the counter medications that help with nicotine cravings, as well support groups, and even apps for your phone. Later this month to celebrate World No Tobacco Day there will be a blog post about the best apps to help kick the sticks. If you or someone you know smokes and has another substance use issue, please contact our specialist who can help find a dual treatment option.
- WHO: Tobacco Fact Sheet
- NIH: Tobacco Addiction
- University of Dayton School of Law: History of Tobacco