More than 8 million people die yearly from the tobacco crisis. It is one of the most significant risks to global public health. This figure includes roughly 1.2 million fatalities from exposure to secondhand smoke. But did you know who initially objected to the use of tobacco?
Before the US acknowledged that smoking severely impacts our health, King James I vehemently opposed tobacco cultivation in the British Colonies, claiming it was damaging to the brain and deadly to the lungs. This was more than 350 years ago.
The Start of Tobacco in England
The 27th of July 1586 is frequently cited as the date when Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with bringing tobacco to England from Virginia.
In fact, according to a legend, when Sir Walter’s servant saw him smoking a pipe for the first time, he threw water over him out of concern that he could be on fire.
The likelihood is far higher. Nevertheless, that tobacco was present in England well before this time. Spanish and Portuguese sailors had been smoking tobacco for a long time, and British seamen may have started smoking pipes before 1586. Sir John Hawkins and his crew might have brought it to these shores as early as 1565.
However, Raleigh brought colonists from the settlement on Roanoke Island with him when he returned to England in 1586, bringing tobacco, maize, and potatoes.
Strangely, potatoes were viewed with great distrust, while tobacco was considered good for your health. By this time, tobacco usage was well accepted across the Continent. The English translation of Nicolas Monardes’ report on tobacco, Of the Tabaco and of His Greate Vertues, by John Frampton, appeared in 1577. It suggested using tobacco to treat cancer, halitosis, worms, falling fingernails, toothache, and other ailments.
The colonists’ pipe-puffing behavior in 1586 gave rise to a craze at Court. According to legend, Sir Walter Raleigh persuaded Queen Elizabeth I to try smoking in 1600. The general populace imitated this, and by the early 1660s, the practice was widespread and raising questions. (Source: Historic UK)
The Anti-Tobacco King, James I
In his 1604 essay A Counterblaste to Tobacco, King James I argued against the use of tobacco, calling it :
A custome loathesome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black and stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.King James I
Tobacco imports were subject to James’ import duty, 6 shillings, 10 pence per pound in 1604. Even the Catholic Church aimed to discourage tobacco usage by deeming it evil and forbidding its use in sacred spaces.
Despite these recommendations, cigarette usage increased. Sir Francis Bacon saw the rise in tobacco usage and the difficulty of quitting the habit in 1610.
John Rolfe, a colonist from Virginia, was the first person to successfully grow tobacco, also known as brown gold, on a commercial scale in Jamestown in 1609. The first shipment of tobacco from Jamestown was carried to England in 1614.
The first shipment of Virginian tobacco to England was about 3,000,000 pounds in 1638, and by the 1680s, Jamestown was producing over 25,000,000 pounds of tobacco annually for export to Europe. (Source: Historic UK)
Image from RCT.Uk