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The smoking of tobacco is thought to go back at least two thousand years, although the smoking of then was of a far less refined form than that of today. The Mayas and Aztec tribes of Central America were thought to smoke tobacco leaves that had been rolled slackly into a tube so that air could permeate through them. It is thought that these tribes smoked mainly as a tribute to their Gods.
As smoking spread, initially to the Caribbean and North America different ways of taking tobacco began to surface. As well as smoking, people began to chew and sniff it. It also began to become a little more sophisticated with the use of clay pipes.
Christopher Columbus first brought some tobacco to Europe, and gradually tobacco plants were introduced. By the late 1500’s smoking had also become popular in England, helped in its promotion by Walter Raleigh. At first it was considered a wonderful healing plant and was prescribed for almost anything, but by the start of the seventeenth century it had become popular as a recreational pursuit.
This initial popularity was nearly stubbed out by James I, who increased excise duty enormously. He also attempted to stop English farmers growing tobacco on their soil, and disputes often led to the burning of tobacco fields. However, the English farmers were a stubborn lot, and continued to grow tobacco, blatantly flouting the law. James’ next bid to try and control tobacco was when he tried to make all the imports of it arrive at London. All this served to do though was encourage those less scrupulous tobacco dealers to smuggle huge amounts through other ports, for example Bristol.
By 1700 tobacco growing in England had virtually stopped. This was due to the flooding of the English market with Virginian tobacco, which was both cheaper and of a higher quality.
Virginian tobacco began to spread all over the world. As well as being popular in pipes and cigars, it became overwhelmingly well liked in the form of cigarettes, which reached a peak in the mid twentieth century.