In Europe tobacco smoking has been condemned almost as long as it has be
In the Americas tobacco consumption had ceremonial significance as shown by this native American pipe-bowl. Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
en enjoyed. Smoking was introduced from America in the sixteenth century. Smoking became popular across Europe and some American colonies, such as Virginia and North and South Carolina, came to depend on its cultivation, using Africans taken as slaves to work on the plantations there. In the nineteenth century snuff, cigars and pipes were the most popular forms of imbibing the nicotine drug from tobacco. Cigar
its popularity is explained by a will to rebel and to declare independence
ettes became popular during the First World War and consumption rocketed. In the USA consumption of cigarettes increased thirty fold between 1913 and 1963.
The popularity of tobacco came to be controversial in the twentieth century. Even before smoking was associated with cancer it was considered unhealthy – the sale of tobacco to children was prohibited in Britain in 1908. After the Second World War new epidemiological evidence linked smoking and cancer. What had been a general habit for most male adults was more and more discouraged by doctors and the authorities. Giving up smoking came to be seen as a healthy – if often difficult – move.
Why giving up smoking should be so hard has in the past been difficult to explain. Models developed in the context of alcoholism have been ap
Discussions about the safety of tobacco smoking have been pervaded by big business Credit:NRM/Science & Society Picture Library
plied to tobacco. For some, its popularity is explained by a will to rebel and to declare independence, for others it is seen as an indication of an ‘addictive personality’. However, there has been a reluctance to describe the dependence as addiction.
While in 1964 the US Surgeon General described smoking as a habit rather than as an addiction, by 1988 the judgement was that dependence on nicotine was an ‘addiction’. Whether tobacco is addictive or merely a matter of reversible habit is a major legal issue settled in the courts in the United States as well as in the laboratory. However, there is increased clarity on how nicotine from tobacco acts on the brain. In the year 2000 the Royal College of Physicians published a report with the explicit title Nicotine Addiction in Britain.