Smoking and its Enemies: A Short History of 500 Years of the Use and Prohibition of Tobacco (1990), by Sean Gabb

Smoking and its Enemies:
A Short History of 500 Years of the Use and Prohibition of Tobacco
by Sean Gabb.

First published by the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (FOREST),
London, 1990,
ISBN 1 871833 14 



On Monday, the 18th of September, 1989, the United Kingdom division of the Ford Motor Company made a rather significant change to the terms on which 12,500 of its office staff were employed. It announced that, as of the following January, they would be banned from smoking anywhere at work but in designated areas – and here only "provided it [did] not adversely affect those in the non-smoking areas"{1}.

I took note of this announcement neither because I was likely to be affected by it, nor because I am someone who believes in the right to light a cigarette in any place, at any time, regardless of the wishes of others. I do not work for Ford, nor probably ever will. I am not a smoker. With the exception of snuff – which I take mentholated for my sinuses, and which is not currently under attack from any quarter{2} – what experience I have had of tobacco products I have usually found unpleasant. I readily admit that some of them are almost certainly bad for the health. My interest in tobacco, and in all the news regarding it, stems almost entirely from libertarian principle. I believe that people should have the right to do with themselves as they will, regardless of any possible harm to them. Any calculation of risk is for them alone to make. Even if it could be shown that non-smokers were endangered by the exhalations of smokers – and the present evidence is such that only fools and fanatics could ever accept it{3} – there would be no case for State action, but only for a more urgent formulation of private arrangements.

Arguing on these grounds, I cannot, and will not, claim that Ford had no right to impose its ban. There was no question of liberty involved. One group of people – namely the Directors of the Company – announced the terms on which it would continue to associate with another group of people – namely the Company's office staff. So far as I am aware, the Company enjoys no government subsidy or special protection of the sort that would justify my intervening as a concerned taxpayer. Nor, to my knowledge, have I any money invested in the Company. I can, as a consumer, boycott all Ford products until the ban has been removed – and I probably will. Beyond this, I readily admit, what Ford did was none of my business.

Even so, I was greatly disturbed by the news. For, though in itself a private decision, this was claimed as a victory for one of the most ludicrous yet sinister organisations in British public life. Ford, by its own choice, put restrictions on smoking among a large portion of its staff. The leaders of Action on Smoking and Health loudly and promptly applauded. If Ford had been compelled by law to restrict smoking, I have no doubt that they would have applauded no less loudly or promptly. All that would have been different was the object of their applause – the Government this time, rather than a board of directors. We are dealing here with people to whom the normal distinction between what is and what is not one's own business is a meaningless quibble. Consider how David Simpson, the Director of Action on Smoking and Health, greeted the news of the Ford ban: "For the first time" he enthused, "I really feel there is no stopping us"{4}.


i: The Desired End of the Anti-smoking Movement

What I propose in this paper to do is ask two questions. First, I ask: what is meant by these words – "there is no stopping us"? What, for these people, would represent final victory in their war against tobacco? The answer is simple: it would be a full prohibition, in public and in private, laid on the use of tobacco. Simpson, I grant, for all his other faults, is no fool. He knows perfectly well how far he can go in his public statements; and, if he ever reads my accusation, and thinks the effort worthwhile, he will deny it. "When did I ever call for this?" he might ask. "When did I ever call for more than tighter curbs on advertising, and on smoking in public, and for higher taxes on tobacco products"?

If I ever were drawn into a debate of this kind, I might answer that Mr Simpson has used words that, given their plain, grammatical meaning, do call for prohibition. Appearing on the Channel Four programme, Right to Reply, on the 17th February, 1990, he declared that

if cigarettes were invented today, there's no way they'd be allowed to be made, never mind advertised or promoted in any other way…. No decent society would actually allow, willy nilly, the promotion of a product even a tenth as dangerous as cigarettes. So that's why we want to ban them

. But this is at variance with his other recorded statements; and I can imagine that he would, if confronted with it, claim that words uttered unscripted on televison ought not be given their plain, grammatical meaning – that the plural object of the verb "ban" was not intended to be cigarettes, but the activities of their advertisers and promoters. All things considered, I am inclined to accept this conjectural excuse. Showing Mr Simpson an indulgence that he would never show me, I overlook his one departure from a general policy of caution{5}. But I hardly need do otherwise. Taking only his considered public statements, we see the grossly illiberal nature of his movement's aims.

In plain English, "curbs on advertising" mean censorship. There is no difference in principle between forbidding a cigarette advertisement and forbidding an attack on the Government. Both involve the telling of a publisher what he can and cannot do. Curbs on the public use of tobacco require a violation of property rights, since many "public places" – cinemas, theatres, restaurants and so forth – are in fact privately owned. Where the lower income groups are concerned, I fail to see where a higher excise duty on cigarettes is likely to differ from an outright ban on their sale. The burden of the taxes already put on raises prices by an average of 200 per cent. I doubt whether raising them to the point where a packet of twenty cost £5 or even £10 or £20 would come near satisfying the clamour made every Budget Day.

And, illiberal as these aims are in themselves, they point quite clearly to the one final aim of prohibition. Anyone who believes that the more dedicated members of the anti-smoking movement want less than this has been taken in by the velvet glove. For the moment, the means used are largely indirect. The intention is to squeeze smokers into a small minority. But, once this minority is small enough, the iron fist will most surely be produced.

As evidence for this, recall the fate of Skoal Bandits – those strange tobacco bags that were to be put in the mouth and sucked. These never caught on. They were plainly a minority taste. Without their millions of users to defend them, they were fair game. At the first hint of evidence linking them with mouth cancer, up went the cry for prohibition. The cry was effective. The sale of oral snuff became a criminal offence on the 13th of March, 1990.

Recall, again, the impending fate of Senior Service, Capstan and Gold Flake cigarettes – brands which, on account of their tar content, have been declining in popularity for years. On the 13th of November, 1989, the Council of Ministers in Brussels proposed a maximum limit of 15mg of tar per cigarette, this limitation to come into effect at the end of 1992, effectively prohibiting the sale of the brands just mentioned{6}. Commenting, a spokesman for the Tobacco Advisory Council said: "What we are seeing by this EEC legislation is virtually the end of untipped cigarettes in the UK{7}. His comment fell short of the probable truth. It was further decided that, from 1997, the limit would be reduced to 12mg of tar per cigarette. What brands this will prohibit I am for the moment unaware – though only a little tightening more of the ratchet on this scale will leave even Rothmans and Benson & Hedges dangerously exposed.

The only objection was – as might be expected – put up on behalf of the British Government. Its objection, however, was grounded not on any regard for the traditional, and bloodily earned and defended, rights of Englishmen, but on the claim that matters of health ought to be decided by the national governments of the Common Market: the only question debated was whether we should be oppressed from Brussels or from London.

In these respects, the banning of tobacco products is no future possibility, but has already begun.

The Intellectual Pedigree of the Anti-Smokers

When I first heard the term "health-fascism" used to describe the anti-smoking movement, I felt some doubt as to its propriety. The word "fascist" had been so overused that it seemed to have lost all meaning, save as a strong but vague pejorative. But, on reflection, I realised that, in this case, I was wrong. For such intellectual pedigree as the anti-smokers have they can plainly trace, not to anything English, or even anything within the more general Western tradition of the past two centuries, but to German National Socialism.

Almost whatever fad these "concerned middle-class progressives" take up, and publicise through the pages of The Guardian and The New Statesman and Society, the followers of Adolf Hitler took up before them. Animal rights, vegetarianism, whole-grain bread and other "organic" foods, natural childbirth – each of these had as its first modern promoters the National Socialists. It is the same with smoking. Hitler and Himmler were both extreme haters of tobacco, and would have no one smoke in their presence. The Party ideologues, looking at its real and imagined dangers to health, condemned it as a "race poison" and called for restrictions{8}. Unlike the leaders of Action on Smoking and Health, they had no need for mealy-mouthedness; but they openly attacked as a "liberal perversion" the view that one should have the right to dispose of his body as he saw fit – the Recht auf den eigenen K”rper. They spoke instead of the "obligation to be healthy" – the Pflicht zur Gezundheit{9}. Since health was now an integral part of the German national interest, they argued, it could no longer be possible to tolerate substances damaging to society as a whole, whatever the wishes of those individuals consuming them{10}.

Compare with this the words from 1980 of Sir George Young, then a junior health minister in the government of Mrs Margaret Thatcher:

The traditional role of politicians has been to prevent an individual causing harm to others, but to allow him to do harm to himself. However, as modern society has made us all more interdependent, this attitude is now changing{11}.

When, in 1944, F.A. von Hayek delivered his famous warning, that England was coming more and more to resemble Germany, he was laughed at. What better proof could be wanted, though, than the debate on smoking to show the gradual eclipse of our traditional regard for individual rights by an imported authoritariansm?

ii: Whether the End can be Achieved

But this is to digress. Having settled that the probable, if not yet the unambiguously stated, aim of the anti-smokers is to ban tobacco, I move to my second question, which is: whether these people are likely to succeed? If I look only over the course of my own life, and of the decade or so preceding my birth, I might feel that I had to answer "yes". Except where the revenue is concerned, they have won the backing of the State. The tobacco companies have been compelled, under threat of legal sanctions, to adopt a "voluntary" code of advertising conduct. They have been compelled – in part by law, in part by unlawful pressure – to cry down their products by putting health warnings over them. Central and local government both spend large sums of our money on propaganda against smoking. Various pressures are being put on government employees not to smoke at work{12}. There have been actual prohibitions. If, taking only this into account, I look ahead, I see every reason for gloom. The anti-smoking movement seems to be in the position of an army that, after a long and closely fought battle, is on the point of scattering its enemy. "There is no stopping us" says David Simpson. He really does believe that a time will inevitably come – and sooner, perhaps, rather than later – when no one shall ever more need to scrub the nicotine stains from his fingers.

This is a horrible and a depressing prospect. But I doubt whether I, or anyone else currently alive, will ever see it. There have been customs that, observed by millions in generation after generation, have died out with the advance of our knowledge, or have been supressed by overwhelming force. But I doubt whether the use of tobacco will become, or be made, one with touching for the King's Evil in England, or the binding of women's feet in China. It is something wholly different. If we confine our view to the past forty years of shrill campaigning, we shall be able to plot a line leading inexorably to prohibition. But, if we look instead over the entire period, of which the past forty years have been less than a twelfth, since tobacco and the Old World made each other's acquaintance, we shall see solid reasons for optimism. We shall see that the appeal of tobacco to those using it has always been so immediate and profound that any hope of outlawing it has been utterly vain.


The European Discovery

It was shortly after Friday, the 12th of October, 1492{13} that the acquaintance was made. On this day, after a voyage of seventy one days, Christopher Columbus had his first sight of the Americas. Around noon, he with his senior officers set foot On Watling Island and raised the Cross and the flag of Castille, claiming possession of the country in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella, the joint monarchs of a Spain only lately reconquered from Islam but rapidly becoming the first power of Christendom. The natives who came down to the shore to watch this ceremony had, for the moment, no idea of its meaning; and, assuming that the strangers had come in peace, made welcome offerings of beads and choice fruits and other objects considered valuable.

Among these objects were the dried, yellowish, strangely aromatic leaves of an unknown plant. The sailors took these along with all else that was offered, but, seeing no use for them, threw them overboard into the sea. What they were there chiefly in search of was gold. It was their desire for riches that had supported them during an Atlantic crossing of 71 days. By and large, they went home disappointed. But, if it was the crimes of Cortez and Pizarro that were to unleash the great, and ultimately ruinous, flood of bullion into the Iberian Peninsula, Columbus and his men had still found gold after a fashion.

Smoking Before Columbus

It would be wrong to say that the practice of smoking dates from here. Much had long since been known in the Old World about the various uses of smoke. From the earliest times, incense had been burned as an accompaniment to worship. Its use, so far as can be told, began in Egypt or Babylonia, and was copied by the other nations of antiquity. When, for some transgression, God smote the wandering Israelites with a plague, it was with an offering of incense that His wrath was turned aside{14}. Later, in the Temple as Jerusalem, a vase of the costliest incense burned day and night outside the Holy of Holies. Among the Greeks and Romans, its price rose so high that the Alexandrian frankincense refiners were sealed into their working clothes, but were still stripped and searched at the end of their shift{15}. During the middle ages, both the Christians and the Moslems continued the practice of burning incense, and have continued it to this day. But, pleasant as its smell might often be, a stick of incense has few uses beyond the ceremonial or the fumigatory.

The Priestess of the Oracle at Delphi is said to have uttered her prophesies while drunk on the vapours that issued from a cleft in the rocks beneath her feet. No such cleft has ever been found, and it seems likely that whatever she inhaled was brought in by the priests whose living it was to put her ravings into competent, if often meaningless, hexameter verses. But, though respected, hers was not a popular office. Few held it willingly{16}. Nor were the observed effects of her smoking such as to encourage imitation.

Smoking was recommended by the doctors, but could never have been done with much pleasure. The smoke from burning hare's fur was given as an expectorant{17}. Burning goat's horn was used to diagnose epilepsy{18}. For consumption, there was the smoke, inhaled through a reed, of dried dung from an ox fed on grass{19}.

Herodotus, describing the bathing habits of the ancient Scythians, tells how they would make a little tent by wrapping a woollen cloth round a tripod of sticks, and inside place a dish of red hot stones. "Then they take some hemp seed, creep into the tent, and throw the seed on to the hot stones. At once it begins to smoke, giving off a vapour unsurpassed by any vapour-bath one could find in Greece. The Scythians enjoy it so much that they howl with pleasure. This is their substitute for a bath in water, which they never use"{20}. While an improvement on smoking dried ox dung, this vile custom remained exclusive to the Scythians. Elsewhere, except in those places where, with the decline of civilisation, bathing came to be given up altogether, personal hygeine was ensured by immersing the body in hot water and then anointing it with oil.

Much was known in the Old World about the practice of smoking. Quite understandably, since there was no tobacco, there was no idea of the habit of smoking. Eccentric claims have been made, but we are quite certain that tobacco was unknown. The genus Nicotiana, of which the most popular and widely cultivated species is now the tabacum, is native in its original state only to the Americas. In common with the potato, the tomato, the egg-plant and the chilli pepper, all members of the great solanaceæ family of plants, its introduction to the European palate had to wait until after Columbus had made his voyage across the Atlantic.

Tobacco in America

How and when it was first used in America no one knows. What accounts we have are fables rather than history{21}. Perhaps there was a single discovery the news of which was spread. Perhaps, as with fire and farming, there were many parallel discoveries. All that we can tell is that tobacco was already known around the start of the Christian era, and that its use was gradually adopted throughout the nations of central and most of north and south America. It was used by the Mayans. While the subjects of Hadrian were courting favour with gifts of incense to the unfortunate but deified Antinoüs, the cultivated inhabitants of southern Mexico were smoking crude cigarettes. They had no rice paper, but would wrap their tobacco in palm leaves or corn husks; or they would use reeds or bamboo; or they would use tobacco leaves and roll cigars. It was used by the Indians further north. They made pipes for themselves – sometimes with bowl and stem, to be held in the mouth, sometimes shaped like a Y, the forked extremities to go in the nostrils – and smoked their tobacco with other plants to vary its flavour or to make it go further. The Aztecs both smoked and snuffed. Elsewhere, tobacco was chewed, eaten, drunk as an infusion, or rubbed into the body. Excepting the hypodermic injection of nicotine – a means of administration never as yet become popular – our own uses of tobacco were all discovered long ago in America. The rest of mankind had only to imitate.

Its Spread Throughout the World

This was done as briskly as the slow communications of the day would allow. During the early years of the sixteenth century, as Europeans crossed the Atlantic in growing numbers, or stayed at home and read the travellers' accounts{22}, the habit of "smoke drinking" attracted a certain interest. The first white man to try it for himself may have been Rodrigo de Jerez, who had sailed with Columbus in 1492. Certainly, by the early years of the new century, many of the Spaniards living in Hispaniola had taken to smoking cigars.


Yet, if it was the Spanish who first took up the use of tobacco, it was the Portuguese – still, before the rise of the Dutch and English, the masters of international commerce – who did most to convert the rest of the world. It was in Portugal that the tobacco plant was first cultivated outside of the Americas, its introduction having occured around 1512. By 1558, snuff was on sale in the markets of Lisbon.


It was from here that the French received tobacco. In 1559, one Jean Nicot of Nimes, arrived in Lisbon, sent to to negotiate a marriage between the young King of Portugal and the French King's daughter, its purpose being to cement an alliance against the now overwhelming power of Spain. The marriage never took place; but Nicot, eager to keep his government informed of anything new or unusual, did send specimens of the tobacco plant back to Paris. Although it was at first called l'herbe du Grand Prieur, in honour of the Church dignitary by whom the specimens had been sent, the French by 1570 had settled on the modern botanical name for the plant of Nicotiana{23}. Within a few years also, they had become inveterate snuffers.

Tradition relates that it was Charles, Duke of Lorraine, who who was the first Frenchman to take to the habit, his own consumption rising eventually to three ounces per day{24}. In any event, snuff was all the rage at Court by the second decade of the seventeenth century.

Italy and Elsewhere

Again from Portugal, tobacco was introduced to Rome. The Papal Nuncio at Lisbon – perhaps following Nicot's example – sent specimens to his master, Pius IV. Next, it travelled to the other Italian cities, and from there into Germany, Hungary, and the other nations of northern and central Europe, where its spread was greatly hastened by the unusual movements of armies and populations occasioned by the Thirty Years War.


Although the claim has been made, it was probably not from Portugal that it came to England. Not only had the English quite early begun their own exploration of the New World, but their settlements in Virginia were founded among pipe-smoking Indians; and, when tobacco made its appearance in England, during the third quarter of the sixteenth century, it was smoked in pipes, and the Portuguese were only later smokers rather than snuffers. It may be, then, that the habit was brought direct from America – and, as he boasted, was brought by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Be this as it may, smoking was soon thoroughly established in England. The yeoman resting at his plough would smoke a little pipe, its bowl a halved walnut shell, its stem a straw. Some men of fashion would go to the length of carrying pipes made of silver about with them. But the majority of smokers, then as for the next few hundred years, preferred those pipes of fragile white clay that are still occasionally to be seen on sale in the better tobacconists. In 1596, a German traveller, commenting on the theatres and other amusements like bull-baiting and bear-baiting, described how

[a]t these spectacles, and everywhere else, the English are constantly smoking the Nicotian weed, which in America is called Tobaca – others call it Pætum – and generally in this manner: they have pipes on purpose, made of clay, into the farther end of which they put the herb, so dry that it may be rubbed into powder, and lighting it, they draw the smoke into their mouths, which they puff out again through their nostrils, like funnels, along with it plenty of defluxion and phlegm from the head{25}.

From England, the habit was spread first into Holland and then throughout the rest of Europe.


Its introduction was made into the Ottoman dominions about the end of the sixteenth century. Since the Portuguese were active in the Turkey trade, as elsewhere, it may have been they who introduced it. But, by whatever route it first entered, its use rapidly increased to the point where later observers would reason that tobacco had not come from America at all, but from the Levant. To this day, some of the best blends come from Turkey and Syria. No atonement could absolve the Turks from the destruction of Byzantium. But their planting of tobacco in Macedonia has given the degenerate modern Greeks some reason for not grumbling quite so loudly as they do. By the Turks its use was also spread east, into Persia and the culturally dependent areas of central Asia.


It was undoubtedly the Portuguese who took it to India. The Brahmins at first had certain religious scruples against smoking, since to carry anything to the lips more than once was to risk defiling themselves with a bodily excrement. But they had none against snuffing, and members of the lower castes and the Moslems had no objection at all to smoking. Before very long, the cultivation and export of tobacco were a considerable business. It was actually from India, rather than America, that the cigar was taken to England, our word cheeroot being a corruption of the Tamil shuruttu.


By the Portuguese also, it was taken to Japan, where smoking was immediately adopted among every class of subjects, from the geisha girls to workers in the rice fields. The Japanese for "tobacco merchant" appears as early as 1578. By 1607, the city of Hokubu was famous for its blends of tobacco. From Japan it was spread to Korea, for a few years after 1598 a Japanese colony. Tobacco remains Korea's main agrigultural export.


To China it was introduced from several directions. It came from Korea, from the Spanish settlements in the Phillipines, and from Portuguese Macao. It quickly spread through the whole of the Empire. The Chinese soon developed their own strains of tobacco, and began making pipes of bamboo, ebony, ivory, the base and precious metals, and even glass. Their glass snuff boxes are still prized items of sale in any auction room. From India and China, tobacco was spread to those parts of the Eurasian land mass to which it had not been already introduced. When the Russians began their vast imperial expanison under Peter II, there were few places where tobacco was unknown.


It was from Portugal, again, that it was first taken to Africa. As early as 1607, the natives of the west coast had been taught its use. Among the Congolese, the very word for smoking, fumu, comes from the Portuguese fumo. Into the southern part of the continent tobacco was taken by the Dutch in 1652. The Cape settlers found the soil admirably suited for its cultivation, and they had soon begun a profitable trade with the Hottentots. In north East Africa, the Galles had their tobacco from Europe, but found their own use for it. they neither smoked it nor ground it into snuff. Instead, they would ferment it, strain off the liquid and chew what remained. This they would sometimes improve in flavour by mixing with cow dung{26}.

That the Arabs first learned of tobacco from the Portuguese is recalled by their word for it – Bortugal. Its cultivation was already established in Mecca and Medina by 1605. The Egyptians have been regular smokers at least since 1603.

The Use of Tobacco: A Universal Custom

In 1560, the nations of the Old World could be divided into those among which tobacco was used and those among which it was not. By 1660, this division had ceased very largely to exist. In almost no other respect, was humanity yet united in culture. There was no common language. The devout of every religion had little more in common than a mutual bigotry. The Jew ate no pork, the Hindoo no beef. The strict Moslem drank no wine. In Europe, no woman but a whore bared her legs in public. In parts of Africa and America even royalty went about stark naked. In England, bigamy was a hanging offence. The wealthy Turk took pride in his seraglio. The Confucian put all hopes of futurity in the progress of his sons. The Mingrelian killed and ate his sons, and had often previously gelded them to increase their succulence. Certainly, if in varying degree, there were everywhere to be found those necessary protections of property and the lives of those who owned it without which society cannot remain in being. But it was to a very widely varying degree that they were to be found; and, beyond the essential, the range of more or less optional morality differed without end. Yet, within a century, the use of tobacco had been spread from the Americas into every part of the world to which the merchants could gain access; and, in spite of every change of fashion and other circumstances since then, tobacco has retained the common regard of mankind. It has done so because nothing else has ever been discovered more exactly suited to the meeting of certain common wants.

The Reasons for its Spread

Pleasurable Effects

First among these wants are the physical. Tobacco brings enjoyment, or at least relief. For some, it has been known to banish hunger and thirst. For others, it makes eating and drinking more pleasant. It takes the mind off grief. It aids contemplation. It stimulates. It relaxes. One cigarette soothes a smoker's mind in readiness for bed, and another sets him up in the morning. The effects of tobacco depend oddly on what is wanted from it. But, whatever they are, these effects are generally welcomed. It was Sir Compton Mackenzie's opinion that without his continual pipe-smoking, he would not have written half of what he did. Nothing served so well for composing his mind to work. "I would argue" he writes, "that every man, whatever his race, whatever his rank, whatever his profession, whatever his work, is helped by smoking"{27}.

Bismark would have agreed. A cigar, he said,

acts as a mild sedative without in any way impair-ing our mental faculties. [It] is a sort of diversion: as the blue smoke curls upward the eye involuntarily follows it; the effect is soothing, one feels better tempered{28}.

Napoleon III, whose destruction was Bismark's greatest and most terrible achievement, would also have agreed. He did much to popularise the cigarette in France, his own consumption of them running to what was then thought the remarkable number of fifty per day{29}. He so entirely lacked his uncle's disregard for the lives of others that he could only bear to watch his battles by chain smoking throughout.

If for a somewhat perverse reason, Oscar Wilde might also have agreed. "You must have a cigarette" he has Lord Arthur Wotton say to the painter. "A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?"{30}.

For Florence King, a cigarette is a "uniquely pleasurable footnote to sex….

I remember those easy-going smoking sessions with [one of my lovers]: the click of the lighter, the brief orange glow in the darkness, the ashtray between us – spilling sometimes because we laughed so much that the bed shook.{31}

For the modern smoker, there are the medical risks to be borne in mind. But, while very few of us wish to die, there is more to life than the putting off of death. Nor is it certain that a life made miserable by the denial of every possibly dangerous pleasure will be a long one. As Homer had Glaucus address Sarpedon nearly three thousand years ago:

Oh, my dearest friend, if only, escaped
from this battle, we could live ageless and
immortal, neither would I fight in the foremost
ranks, nor would I send you into
the struggle that gives men renown. But now
(since ten thousand shapes of death forever
stand about us, and no mortal may flee or
avoid them), let us advance{32}.

And the older smokers often had a different view of the relationship between tobacco and health.

The Alleged Medical Benefits

The American Indians had long believed in its medicinal properties. It was taken by them as a cure for toothache, frostbite, burns, venereal ulcerations and rashes, malignant tumours, and much else. The European doctors showed an immediate interest. It was tried on a variety of conditions, and belief in its efficacy became, during the first half of the seventeenth century, quite extravagant. Sometimes, not all the advertising of the tobacconists could rival the advocacy of certain medical writers. By one Dr Johannes Vittich it was even claimed that

[t]here can be no doubt that tobacco can cleanse all impurities and disperse every gross and viscous humour, as we find by daily experience. It cures cancer of the breast, open and eating sores, scabs and scratches, however poisonous and septic, goitre, broken limbs, erysipelas, and many other things. It will heal wounds in the arms, legs and other members of the body, of however long stan-ding{33}.

It was lauded particularly as a preventive of the bubonic plague, until the eighteenth century a regular and dreaded visitor to Western Europe. During an outbreak at Nimeguen in 1636, Dr Isbrand van Diemerbroek credited his survival, despite his unfearing devotion to the sick, to his heavy smoking. Once, believing himself overcome by the contagion, he had to hurry home, and believed that he was saved only saved by his promptness in smoking "six or seven pipes of tobacco"{34}. Twenty nine years later, the plague made its last and most celebrated appearance in London, where, among a population of just under half a million, it soon killed 70,000{35}. In his diary entry for the 7th of June of that year, Samuel Pepys testifies to the continued belief in tobacco:

This day, much against my Will, I did in Drury-lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and "Lord have mercy upon us" writ there – which was a sad sight to me, being the first of that kind that to my remembrance I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll=tobacco to smell and to chaw, which took away the apprehension{36}.

It was now that the boys of Eton College were set to smoke a pipe every morning to keep them healthy. One old boy later told Thomas Hearne, the antiquarian, how he had been flogged when found not smoking his ration{37}. Elsewhere in England, tobacco had for some time already been denied, if at all, only to girls. Writing of his travels through England in 1666, Jorévin de Rochefort records how, in the course of a visit to Worcester, his friend

asked me if it was the custom in France, as in England, that when the children went to school, they carried in their satchels, with their books, a pipe of tobacco, which their mothers took care to fill early in the morning, it serving them instead of a breakfast; and that at the accustomed hour every one laid aside his book to light his pipe, the master smoking with them, and teaching them how to hold their pipes and draw in the tobacco; thus accustoming them to it from their youth, believing it absolutely necessary for a man's health{38}.

Medical attention was not confined to Europe. The Hottentots made it into powder and applied it as a specific against scorpian bites. The Chinese used it in the treatment of colds and skin diseases, as well as of maleria, skin parasites and obesity. Mixed with pine resin, its inhalation was supposed to remedy a bad circulation.

There were contrary opinions. Hadrianus Falckenburgius, one of the most famous doctors of the early seventeenth century, was convinced that tobacco injured the brain. Then there was the general revulsion of medical opinion as soon as the more extravagant claims were falsified. It was soon evident that tobacco did not set broken bones, or clear away skin rashes, or cure cancer, or prevent the plague. The doctors had fallen into a simple but common error. They had observed what was evident – that the immediate effects of tobacco were often to raise a patient's spirits; and these, even today, can do as much for recovery as the most powerful drug. Given a little optimism, and the utter lack of any statistical method as corrective, they went straight to their conclusion, that it could cure everything.

But this revulsion had its limits. Tobacco was seen as far less valuable, but was retained in the pharacopoeia. Indeed, as recently as 1901, it was still suggested on good authority as a treatment for respiratory disorders{39}. And its retention may have had good reason. Tobacco appears to aid digestion, and to loosen the more intractable deposits of mucous. Its calming effect on the mind is shared by various organs of the body; and there are those who suggest that a little smoking might help in the avoidance of ulcers and other conditions related to stress{40}. Even today, with all that we have learned, or been taught to believe, it may be that tobacco is less an uncompromising enemy of the human body than an ambiguous and often costly friend.

The Social Benefits

It owed some part of its spread to the advice of the doctors. But its continued popularity derived from other causes. Its physical attractions alone would have guaranteed it a place. Consequent on these, though, were its social attractions. Wherever tobacco has been introduced, it has rapidly become indispensible to most kinds of gathering.

The Indian peace pipe has become a cinematic cliché. Whether those who smoked it were always as faithful to their bond as the romantic anthropologists would have us believe may be doubted{41} But the value, where dealings with strangers are concerned, of a shared activity that relaxes without dulling the mind is obvious. It is the ideal aid to diplomacy; and cigarettes have been a moderating force in every kind of negotiation, from wage bargaining in the Midlands to the settling of disputes along the line dividing free from socialist Korea.

It has an equal value in the making of personal friends. There are few places where someone can sit down among perfect strangers and and at once join in the conversation. In England, for sure, this sort of pushing in is firmly discouraged. Without an introduction, most people tend to ignore each other. Words are exchanged, if at all, for a plainly limited purpose. Anything beyond this is met with suspicion. Smoking is the traditional means here of breaking through this reserve. See, for an early example, Joseph Addison:

I was Yesterday in a Coffee-House not far from the Royal Exchange, where I observed three Persons in close Conference over a Pipe of Tobacco; upon which, having filled one for my own Use, I lighted it at the little Wax Candle that stood before them; and after having thrown in two or three Whiffs amongst them, sat down and made one of the Company. I need not tell my Reader, that lighting a Man's Pipe at the same Candle, is looked upon among Brother-smoakers as an Overture to Conversation and Friendship{42}.

Nearly three centuries later, tobacco has much the same function. Imagine: Two strangers sit opposite in an other-wise empty railway carriage. After a long silence, one clears his throat and makes a desultory comment – on the weather perhaps, or some matter concerning the journey. An answer is made not deterring all further communication. A cigarette case is taken out and presented. The cost of one cigarette, even with the immense weight of the taxes heaped now on it, is small, though its value as a gift may be considerable. Not merely is a common activity joined, but friendship is offered. If accepted, the conversation can begin. It may have left one open to the attentions of a bore for the rest of the journey. It may have been the prelude to a life-long attachment. More likely, it will simply have enabled the passing of a few hours more pleasantly than a silent counting of telegraph poles would have allowed. If Englishmen smoked less, they are continually told – and told most often at their own unwilling expense – they would live longer. Beyond any doubt, they would also make fewer friends.

Yet if tobacco can be used to dissolve barriers, it can also be used to reinforce them. By restricting their access to it, the inferior status of certain groups can be more sharply defined. It is not only the anti-smokers in the modern West who support the laws against the supply of tobacco products to children; nor were these laws themselves invariably enacted in response to the medical panic of the past four decades. Alternatively, an exclusion may be founded on some difference in the method of using tobacco.

One such difference can be seen to have emerged in England after 1660. Before then, smoking – or, to a much smaller extent, quid-chewing – had been common to almost everyone who used tobacco, irrespective of wealth, status or opinion. The men who faced each other in the Parliament of 1641, and who subsequently faced each other on the battlefields of Naseby and Edge-Hill, were divided on nearly every fine point of constitutional and religious doctrine. They wore different clothes, and caroused in different fashions. They gave their children very different names. But, when they called for tobacco, it was from clay pipes of the same design that they smoked it. The Cavaliers who returned with Charles II, however, had passed at least a while in French exile, and had brought back to England an enthusiasm for France. During the next thirty years, Whitehall became in every respect – and many of them were thoroughly shameful – a satellite of Versailles, as did, to a lesser extent, London become one of Paris. Along with periwigs, moral laxity, a taste for rhymed drama, and all else by which the new courtiers and their clients set themselves apart from the rest of the nation, was snuff. Smoking was seen as the act of a provincial or a Puritan, never of a gentleman. Macaulay describes the most fashionable coffee houses of the period:

The atmosphere was like that of a perfumer's shop. Tobacco in any other form than that of richly scented snuff was held in abomination. If any clown, ignorant of the usages of the house, called for a pipe, the sneers of the whole assembly and the short answers of the waiters soon convinced him that he had better go somewhere else{43}.

In turn, snuffing was seen as the act of a cold-hearted, sensual fop, with a hatred of the old Constitution and a taste for Roman Catholicism.

The Glorious Revolution put an end both to Royal absolutism and all attempts at a Counter-Reformation in England. But the distinction between those who smoked and those who snuffed remained throughout the eighteenth century. The coffee house described by Addison was filled with members of the commercial classes or the minor gentry. No one who pretended to any higher station would have willingly sat smoking in public. Edward Gibbon was the grandson of a City merchant, and, before the publication of his immortal History gave him a measure of independence, he earned much of his living from public sinecures given him in exchange for his vote in Parliament. Even so, he claimed descent from the same stock as the Hapsburgs, and his Swiss exile had left him with tastes more French than English. Accordingly, he took snuff. He would arrive in company dressed in such ornate splendour as almost to divert attention from the great hanging hydrocele that was one day to kill him, and would make his jewelled snuff box into a solid punctuation of his discourse. Three loud raps with the fingers of his right hand would indicate that he had something to say that he considered of more than usual force and elegance. Sometimes, he would pause, with a flourish carry a pinch of the best snuff to each nostril, and then continue. It is easy, leaving aside his genius, to see Gibbon as a caricature of the eighteenth century man. But caricature is often no more than exaggeration; and, so far as the use of tobacco is concerned, it was only in the late nineteenth century, with the introduction of the cheap cigar and, at last, of the cigarette, that the English returned to a form of use common to all classes.

Religious Uses

Tobacco, said Thomas Corneille, is divine: it has no compare{44}. Not surprisingly, in view of the plant's real and apparent qualities, this has often been taken as literally true. The American Indians familiar with its use believed without exception in its divine origin{45}; and its ritual use appears to be as old as its discovery. Among the Mayans, it was regularly offered to the gods both as incense burned on the altars and as smoke from the mouths of the worshippers. One of the best preserved reliefs from their ancient temple at Palenque shows a priest smoking a cigarette. Among the Aztecs, it was a necessary accompaniment to the ceremonies at which thousands of captives were slain in sacrifice to the god Tezcatlipoca. The medicine men of the more primitive Tonoupinambaultiis tribe in Brazil would fill and light their pipes and puff the smoke into the faces of the assembled laity, the purpose of this being to transmit the heroic virtues. "The warriors, thus prepared, attacked their enemies with demoniac fury and almost inevitably were victorious"{46}.

Similar notions were formed quite independently in the Old World. At Dahomey, in west Africa, the dignitaries attending the rites of human sacrifice formerly held there would each be assigned servants decorated with imitation tobacco leaves; and the King, as principal smoker, would puff smoke into the mouths of his guests. Among the Hottentots, as soon as a boy was born, he would have a cigar put in his mouth, while his mother bit off and ate his right testicle. This was considered a very beneficial operation, giving the child, among other qualities, fleetness of foot{47}. In parts of Asia also, tobacco had, and sometimes still has, a religious significance.

But, in Christian Europe, it had none. While its divinity was proclaimed by the younger Corneille, he should be seen as making no more than a poetical flourish – as following a convention according to which every beloved was a goddess and every military patron a hero. Even if his own regard for tobacco did extend to its worship, a settled body of opinion within the Church of which he was formally a member was in opposition to its use. It may seem strange, or perhaps monstrous, to relate: but there were occasions when the persecution of tobacco was advocated, and actually carried into effect, on the grounds of religion.

The Persecution of Tobacco – One

Spanish America

Coming from the religious authorities in Spanish America, the earliest opposition, while hardly justified, was sufficiently explained by the reasons given for it. The conversion of the natives went ahead for the most part without any use, or even threat, of force. No matter how great the secular crimes committed, there was in America no equivalent of the religious oppression that accompanied the reconquest of Spain from the Arabs. But, if, bearing in mind their faith and the age in which they lived, the missionaries were not extreme bigots, one conviction they had brought from home. They believed the signs of a true conversion to be not only adherence to the doctrines of their Church, and observance of its ceremonies, but also a complete giving up of any practice that seemed – no matter how indifferent in itself it was – at all associated with the old faith. In Spain, the converted Jews and Moslems were spied on to see how many more baths they took than their longer established brothers and sisters in Christ. In America, bearing in mind all that was seen by the missionaries, it was impossible at first not to make an association of tobacco with paganism. When the Indians came into church, then, smoking for all the world as if they were at a pagan ceremony, they met with the most severe disapproval.

In 1575, a Mexican ecclesiastical council forbade the use of tobacco in any church throughout Spanish America. However, the prohibition was so ineffective that even some priests had soon taken to its use. No amount of propaganda could hold them from realising that an easy distinction could be drawn between the religious and the other uses of tobacco{48}. In time, the distinction was to be made by everyone, as paganism was either forgotten or concealed in the main centres of population; and the religious opposition lapsed. But, before this was to happen, the penalties against tobacco were increased. By a decree of the Provincial Council convened at Lima in 1588, its use was forbidden to any priest, under pain of eternal damnation, while at the altar. A year later, the Council of Mexico declared that

[o]ut of regard for the reverence due to the Holy Eucharist, it is hereby commanded that no tobacco in any form whatever be taken by clerics before reciting Holy Mass, or by any person before receiving Holy Communion{49}.


Yet, while the American prohibitions are sufficiently explained by the circumstances in which they were imposed, it is difficult to see why, on purely religious grounds, they were imitated in Europe. There never was any general prohibition; but local action was sometimes taken. In Seville, for example, by 1642, some of the clergy at Seville had become habitual smokers and snuffers during the celebration of the Mass. In that year, following complaints, Pope Urban VIII issued a Bull forbidding the use of tobacco in any church throughout the diocese, the penalty for infringement being immediate excommunication. His successor, Innocent X, issued a similar Bull in 1650 to cover the Church of St Peter in Rome.

A Theological Excursus

Why were these Bulls issued? The association of what is present with was is inconceivably distant is harder made than when both are present; and, so far as I can tell, no one ever claimed that a man who took up smoking in Spain or Italy was just as likely to pick up a flint knife and start a cult of the great god Tezcatlipoca.

The Bible

Nor, this excuse removed, is there any direct condemnation to be found in the Bible. There are statements against wine that can be extended to cover tobacco. According to Paul, for example, drunkards shall not inherit the Kingdom of God{50}. But this and all other such claims have seldom been construed as sanctioning a prohibition of alcohol, but merely as against against immoderate indulgence. It is, moreover, open to doubt whether tobacco is in the same class of substances as alcohol{51}. There are various schools of exegesis by using the methods of which any text can be made to give any desired meaning, from predictions of when the world will end to injunctions for or against Apartheid. Doubtless, by the same methods, the most damning attacks imaginable on tobacco could be extracted. But in the way of this stands common sense, together with a suspicion – which, admittedly, is no proof – that, whatever else it might be, the Bible is not a book of crossword puzzles.

Undeniably, tobacco was seen as a pollutant. But it was not seen as one in the most usual modern sense of the word. The two Papal Bulls against its use in church did stress its dirty effects. People were sneezing and even spitting on the floor. Smoke was staining the altar linen and endangering sacred works of art. Yet, while spitting may be a vile habit, it was no more insanitary than the frequent exposure and burial of corpses in church. The burning of incense creates as much smoke as tobacco, and the greasy deposits of the past five centuries have damaged or destroyed some of the best Renaissance frescoes. Moreover, the same dislike was shown by many of those Protestants for whom a church was very much less a place of ritual and adornment. Tobacco was seen as a pollutant in church less because it was dirty than because its use was seen as unnatural.

The Law of Nature

Following the vague notion, first held by the Greeks, that "the good" corresponds in some degree to what is found outside of human custom, objections to tobacco have frequently been grounded on its being contrary to nature. But, on any candid examination of the matter, this grounding must be seen as of a quite illusory solidity. In the first place, the concept of nature appears to have been almost unknown – or, at least, ignored – by the primitive Christians. Christ made no use of it. Paul makes a single unambiguous reference to it, and then not to prove more than a very trivial point{52}. Peter's use of it is actually derogatory: "But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption"{53}. Here, godliness is contrasted with the call of nature, not identified with it. The construction para ton tes phuseos nomon{54} – against the law of nature – is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. The concept of nature as a criterion of right conduct was fully introduced only by the educated Greek converts of the second century; and it was made a full and harmonious part of Christian theology only by the scholastic philosophers of the twelfth century. Therefore, by those Protestants who regard systematic thought as a hindrance – or, perhaps, as an alternative – rather than a help, to understanding the Word of God as revealed in the Bible, the words "natural" and "unnatural" are never safely to be used. Any Protestant who gives utterance to the claim that "if God had wanted us to smoke, he would have put chimneys out of our heads" is making a potentially dangerous concession to the Scarlet Whore of Babylon.

In the second place, while Roman Catholics need have no fear of using these words, the problem, where smoking is concerned, is to give them a definite meaning. Can it be said that, by subordinating his rational faculty to a desire for corporeal pleasure, the smoker is rejecting the nature given him by God? If tobacco were like alcohol, the answer might be yes. The normal tendency of habitual and immoderate drinking is to destroy both mind and body. The effect of nicotine is simply to alter their states in various, comparatively mild, ways. Nor, unlike alcohol, does it create a will-rotting addiction. Some smokers there have always been for whom giving up has been a painful effort. Yet this typically involves a depression and a certain irritability which reaches its greatest intensity within a day or so of stopping, and then steadily reduces. The craving can last for years. But there is nothing about the physiological effects here comparable with the hallucinations and convulsions that some alcoholics feel on drying out. These are facts so evidently true from experience, that I can scarcely conceive how anyone with eyes and a brain could honestly dispute them.

Nor can it consistently be said that smoking represents an unnatural use of a bodily function. In 1653, a committee of Saxon bishops and university professors issued a manifesto in which we read that

[i]t is both godless and unseemly that the mouth of man, which is the means of entrance and exit for the immortal soul, that mouth which is intended to breathe in the fresh air and to utter the praises of the Most High, should be defiled by the indrawing and expelling of tobacco smoke{55}.

Smoking does put the lungs to a novel and unexpected use. But, while, if we are Darwinians, we can say that the lungs did not evolve for this use, if we are creationists – as most Christians were before the last century – who are we to say what use God had in mind for any of our organs, back in the late October of 4004 BC, when he created the heavens and the earth out of nothing? Considered in itself, smoking is neither more nor less an abuse of our nature than is shaving the hair off parts of our body or clipping a pair of spectacles to the bridge of the nose.

The obvious answer here would be to refer to the medical evidence. Whether or not we choose to regard all of the claims against tobacco as true, or even as likely, we are easily able to distinguish the lighting of a cigarette from the wearing of spectacles. But what we can do is currently of no importance. The question is on what grounds the men of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could distinguish the use of tobacco from any number of other non-natural yet accepted activities. And, bearing in mind what medical evidence they had before them, they had no such grounds whatever.

The Likeliest Reason

When hostility to any act or substance is based on grounds that plainly, or according to the knowledge available, do not support it, the likeliest explanation is that the stated grounds are false. The denunciations against tobacco, though most frequently couched in theological terms, do not follow either from any commonsensical reading of the Bible, or from any consistent train of scholastical reasoning. In all likelihood, they follow instead from two propositions. The first is that novelty is to be distrusted. Even with so much reason as we, in the West, have to despise this worst kind of conservatism, we sometimes give way to it. Over our ancestors, it had a much wider dominion.

When smoking had just been introduced into England, one story goes, Sir Walter Raleigh was sitting at home, enjoying a quiet pipe. A gardener came into the room, thought his master on fire, and poured a bucket of water over him. Less happily, another story records how Rodrigo de Jerez – who, it may be recalled, was perhaps the first European to smoke tobacco – went back to his home town, where he so alarmed his neighbours with the clouds of smoke coming from his mouth, that they denounced him to the Inquisition, and had him locked away. He remained a prisoner for some years; and, on being set free, found that everyone else had taken to smoking{56}.

The second proposition is that whatever is enjoyed by others, and not by oneself, is wrong. This dislike of other people's pleasure has never lain entirely dormant in any generation; and it has in some been let out of all control. To the extent that tobacco gives pleasure to its user, it has always attracted the hatred of those puritan bigots who, as Macaulay so memorably taunted, "hated bearbaiting not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators{57}. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the ages in which the puritans of every sect were at their most powerful. It seems only likely that, having begun to hate tobacco for reasons that they could hardly announce to the public – or, indeed, honestly to themselves – they should have snatched at any denunciation on theological grounds, and not been too concerned about giving it any proper justification.

The Persecution of Tobacco – Two

It may seem that I have given far too much space to seeking to explain the religious prohibitions in Europe. They were always limited in nature and extent. They were never strictly enforced. Yet, while in themselves limited, they did set an example and provide excuses for the much more important attacks on tobacco mounted by some governments.


The most important attacks within Christendom came in the Holy Roman Empire, that loose confederation of states, nominally or actually under Hapsburg control, which now roughly comprise Germany, Czechoslovakia and northern Italy. The Thirty Years War, ending in 1648, though disastrous, had settled the military debate on the Reformation. The individual states of the Empire might still persecute dissenters within their own jurisdictions; but the formula cuius regio eius religio – whose the territory, his the established faith – had left the crusading zealots of both sides frustrated. It is probably no coincidence that the cry against tobacco went up within a few years of the War's ending.

Nothing could exactly replace the thrill of religious controversy. But, being both new and popular, this was a good substitute enemy. Pens that had formerly written for or against the Real Presence and Predestination continued the same hysterical outpouring of ink, but in another direction. The most famous of these diverted controversialists was Jakob Balde, a Jesuit, whose writings reveal him as a something between the Juvenal and the David Simpson of his age. Take, as examples, the following passages:

So soon as a ship with tobacco from overseas comes into port – they can scarce wait till the stinking cargo is unloaded – they take the first boat they can find, and off they go to the vessel. Then a box must be opened and a sample of tobacco cut off from the roll, that they may taste the nasty stuff, into which they stick their teeth as greedily as if it were the daintiest of morsels. If they find it to their liking, then they are all athirst to enjoy it, and quite beside themselves with happiness. After some gaping they begin to bargain and inquire the price; ducats or golden guineas, 'tis all one to them – they grudge no expense for an article like this: what is the good of money, they say, if it is to lie idle in the purse? Money, we all know, is more precious than virtue, but unto them tobacco is dearer still….

What difference is there between a smoker and a suicide, except that the one takes longer to kill himself than the other? Because of this perpetual smoking, the pure oil of the lamp of life dries up and disappears, and the fair flame of life itself flickers out and goes out all because of this barbarous habit{58}.

The authorities were often of the same mind. In Cologne, as early as 1649, the Archbishop – who was also the political sovereign – decreed a general prohibition of the "sale and purchase and use of tobacco everywhere, under penalty of incurring Our high displeasure and punishment, together with the confiscation of the tobacco and the pipes"{59}. The punishment was a fine or imprisonment, the severity of each increasing with a repetition of the offence. One of the reasons given in the decree was the risk of fire. In those days of closely built, timber houses, before the emergence either of household insurance or of efficient fire fighting services, this was a dangerous risk, and goes some way, it must be granted, to the dislike of tobacco. But, while smoking might understandably be legislated against, neither snuffing nor quid-chewing could have involved any threat of fire. I might also say, in passing, that the prohibition covered the medical use of tobacco. What kind of concern does a government show for its subjects when it bars them from a substance that – however falsely – they believe to be a valuable medicine?

In 1652, the Electors of Bavaria and Saxony issued general prohibitions. That same year, they were joined by the Moravian Diet. Within a few years, much of the Empire was covered at least by restrictions on smoking or the other uses of tobacco, where not by prohibitions. Until 1691, in Luneburg, smoking even carried the death penalty.

Needless to say, these had no large effect – save, perhaps, to bring the law into disrepute by reason of its perversion to immoral and unattainable ends. In 1662 a proclamation to the Bohemians complained how, in spite of all efforts as supressing it, tobacco was now smoked by everyone – even in the streets. "The common people" it stated

are so given up to the abuse that they imagine they cannot live without several pipes of tobacco a day – thus squandering in these necessitous times the pennies that they need for their daily bread{60}.


A similar experience was had those parts of Switzerland where Calvinism held sway. Inspired by this gloomy – and, in many respects, scandalous – doctrine, the authorities proceeded against tobacco with the same ferocity as they brought to their other interferences in what should have been matters of private choice. After the first laws had utterly failed, more severe ones were tried. In Zurich, for example, in 1667, it was decided by the Burgomaster and Council that offenders should be set to work on the city walls. If they were caught again, they would be beaten with rods, or branded, or exiled. In Berne, a table of police regulations based on the Ten Commandments was drawn up, and smoking was included in the prohibition of adultery. In 1675, an institution known as the Tobacco Chamber, and modelled on the Roman Inquisition, was founded, its purpose being to track down and punish all uses of tobacco. But these laws were just as complete a failure as the first. The Swiss were too fond of their tobacco. Some of them, moreover, were beginning to make large sums by trading in it. The authorities in Basle, which had become home to an international market in tobacco, refused all commands and persuasions to interfere in the trade.


The government of Russia, then, as always, was less restrained than its Western counterparts in ensuring obedience to its will. The Orthodox clergy there took against tobacco for much the same reasons as the Roman Church. But, ignorant of Augustine and Aquinas – and, for that matter, of all speculative theology – they preferred to base their opposition on the text: "The things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man"{61}. They had a firm ally in Michael Feodorovich, the first Romanov Czar. His reign, from 1613, to 1645, was an age of fierce persecution for all users of tobacco, smokers or otherwise. He declared its use a deadly sin, and forbade possession for any purpose. A Tobacco Court was established to try breaches of the law. Its usual punishments were slitting of the lips, or a terrible, and sometimes deadly, flogging with the knout. Occasionally, offenders were castrated; or, if they were rich, they were exiled to Siberia, and their property was confiscated.


But the most extreme persecution took place in the Ottoman Empire. Though still at the height of its power, though still able, indeed, as late as 1683, to have an army lay seige to Vienna, the Empire was in decline. The stern, but limited, authoritarianism that had allowed the Turks to conquer the whole southern and eastern rim of the Mediterranean, from Casablanca to Baghdad, from Budapest to Aswan, had given way to the worst form of oriental despotism. Each new Sultan emerged from a seraglio intrigue. He secured his power by a massacre of his brothers. His exercise of power was restrained neither by any institution nor by custom. He ruled his capital through a cabal of eunuchs and favourites, and the provinces through governors answerable to him alone. In spite of this, there were Sultans of distinction, and even greatness, whose efforts did much to ensure the Empire's survival into the present century. But there were also Sultans who might, in every particular, have stepped out of the pages of Suetonius and Tacitus. Murad IV, who ruled between 1623 and 1640, was a Sultan of this latter kind. Among the particular objects of his tyranny was tobacco.

Since Mohammed died nearly a thousand years before the European discovery of America, the Koran is as silent as the Bible on tobacco. Like the Bible, it does cry out against alcohol: "Intoxicants and gambling… are an abomination – of Satan's handiwork: eschew such abominations that ye may prosper"{62}. But there have always been doubts as to whether these prohibitions extend to tobacco. As with Christianity, Islam has been heavily influenced in its philosophic theology by Aristotelianism; and no one who has read Aquinas will find the works of Al-Ghazali or his followers at all strange in their fundamentals. But, again, no conception of the natural and unnatural has ever been made that would allow a consistent attack on smoking or any other use of tobacco. The most extremely devout Moslems certainly condemn it, as they condemn all pleasures that are not immediately joined with the contemplation of God. But, such extremes of devotion, while always respected, have never been more common in Islam than in other religions. The general opinion today throughout the Islamic world is that the use of tobacco is neither unKoranic nor unnatural. Even the Saudi Wahabbites, the strictest sect of Islam, no longer regard smoking as a criminal offence.

In the seventeenth century, when tobacco was still a novelty, opinion was more evenly balanced. Yet, while the theologians tended to regard the prohibition of wine as applying to all mood-altering substances in general, it was hardly out of piety that the Sultan took against smoking. Contravening the explicit Word of God, he was a furious drinker, and it was a complication of gout brought on by his drinking that eventually caused his death. He probably hated tobacco for the same reasons as the puritans in Europe hated it – because it gave others a pleasure that he did not himself know, or that he did not wish to know.

It is said, though not on unanimous authority, that laws against smoking had been made during the previous reigns, and that punishment for their breach involved the offender's having a pipe-stem thrust through his nose, and his parading through the streets of Constantinople on a donkey. Murad, however, applied himself to the putting down of smoking with a thoroughness and brutal severity unique in history. As with Nero, his immediate excuse for persecution was a fire.

On the 7th of August, 1633, while the capital was celebrating the birth of his son with general, and prudent, rejoicing, a firework landed on a ship at anchor in the Golden Horn and set it afire. The flames spread to the dock and then to the city. Before the fire was brought under control, it had razed 20,000 wooden buildings. Since fire fighting was a government enterprise, and the officials in charge of it had behaved with gross incompetence, there was an outcry. Men would come together in the coffee houses and complain to each other over a pipe of tobacco. Since, suspicious even of his own spies, he was in the habit of going about Constantinople in disguise, to find out for himself what was being said against him, Murad was soon aware of this. He accordingly put out a decree, announcing that the fire had been caused by the smokers, and ordering that all places where smokers were known to gather should be demolished.

This decree was soon followed by another, in which smoking was prohibited on pain of death. Adding the role of policeman, judge and executioner to that of spy, he continued his secret visits. His pleasure was to accost a suspected tobacco dealer and beg him to sell a small quantity, offering a price outrageous even compared with those obtaining on the black market. If the dealer's caution was overcome by greed, and he produced a bag of tobacco, Murad would behead him on the spot. His body would lie in the street, an example of the imperial justice. Invariably, his estate would be confiscated.

Wherever the Sultan went, the number of executions would rise. Even on the battlefield, he would make a point of seeking out smokers, and punishing them by beheading, hanging, cutting in quarters, or crushing their extremities and leaving them helpless between the lines. No one knows how many suffered from this disgraceful law, though, by the time of his death, at the age of twenty nine, Murad had put to death well over 100,000 of his subjects – a quarter of them during his last five years. This may seem a very small total to us, who are used now to reckoning the victims of tyranny in millions and tens of millions. But, for a man who lacked the gas chamber and the machine gun – and whose whims never went to the full madness of telling farmers how to grow food – 100,000 is a very respectable figure for a reign of seventeen years.

For all his efforts at enforcement, though, Murad's laws were as complete a failure as those in Europe were later in the century. The Turks and the subject peoples of the Empire continued to smoke. The laws were repealed in 1648 by Mohammed IV – himself a smoker – and were not repeated.


Not every prohibition, however, was made on the grounds of religion. Ignorant both of Jewish monotheism and of Greek philosophy, when, in 1609, the Japanese Shogun forbade the cultivation and use of tobacco for any purpose, his stated intention was simply to keep the peace. In that year, the Bramble and the Leather Breeches smoking clubs had been formed in the old capital city of Kyoto. Their members – chiefly young nobles – were to be recognised by the enormously long and heavy pipes that they had either to wear strapped round their waists like swords, or have carried behind them by retainers. Their chief delight was to go about, provoking street brawls. After an outcry, the clubs were dissolved; and since, as frequently happens, disapproval of what was pernicious was extended to cover what was only accidentally connected with it, smoking was prohibited.

While the clubs were suppressed, the prohibition as it applied to tobacco was ignored. Either the authorities still failed to distinguish smoking from disorder, or the public order was only an excuse for attacking tobacco. For, in 1612, it was further decreed, that the property of anyone taken in the act of selling tobacco should be given to his accuser. In 1616, the penalties were made yet more severe. But was all to no effect. Before long, the very princes who had made the laws were breaking them. Tobacco was quietly absorbed into Japanese tradition; and a pipe soon accompanied the cup of tea ceremonially offered to a guest in polite society. The laws against it were all repealed in 1624. There was a feeble effort to revive them during a few years after 1695. But this never amounted to more than a petty vexation. The Japanese remain among the heaviest smokers in the world; and their low incidence of lung cancer is a standing embarrassment to the anti-smoking hysterics of our own day{63}.


Nor was the opposition in England primarily religious. As with the rest of the nation, tobacco was too popular among the clergy for there to be any serious question of seeking its prohibition as ungodly. What opposition there was came largely from one man. What it was about tobacco that James I hated is unknown. Mackenzie suggests that the whole passion was a cover for his virulent hatred of Sir Walter Raleigh{64}. Probably, he just disliked the thought of all that pleasure derived from it by others. But, whatever his reason, it was his great misfortune that he should have hated tobacco as bitterly as did his contemporary fellow ruler, Murad of Turkey. For he was quite unable to suppress it.

The Tudors had made a great show of their absolutism; and their nationalisation of the English Church, so removing any alternative source of authority within the Kingdom, had made them on paper the most powerful monarchs in Christian Europe. But their power was almost entirely a facade. On the Continent, the growth of standing armies during the sixteenth century had everywhere destroyed, or seriously weakened, the constitutions that had once limited the royal power. In England, this development had been delayed until its effects elsewhere had become evident, and will and reason had been found to oppose it. Philip of Spain, whose theoretical power over his subjects was shared with the Pope, could raise taxes on the stroke of a pen, and grind down any person or institution that dared resist him. Elizabeth of England stood uniquely between her subjects and God, but had no armed force wholly under her command but her palace guard; and for money she had to apply to a Parliament that she could influence but never control. Her power was a facade, kept intact by her own personality and by the affectionate conniving of her subjects.

James, her nephew and successor, came down from Scotland, in 1603, believing that he really had inherited a position of unlimited power – that he really was to be regarded, as the more Courty divines were daily preaching, as God's vice-gerant on Earth. He soon discovered the true state of affairs in England. He had no force of personality, and his subjects, as soon as they had his measure, began openly to despise him. He was Scottish. He was deformed. He stank. He slobbered. He was a passive homosexual who enriched his lovers at the public expense. Undoubtedly, he was learned. But, where Elizabeth's learning had sat easily on her, his took the form of a querulous pedantry that moved those round him to laughter. Even his one great service to his people, the peace with Spain, was condemned by the standards of the day as cowardice. His entire reign was taken up with a quarrel over money, that was eventually to merge with a quarrel over the meaning of his title. He wanted open access to the wealth of England. The House of Commons resisted him at every attempt. When it came to an attack on tobacco, he had no better weapons at hand than a propaganda campaign and what few fiscal and regulatory powers had not yet been removed from his dwindling prerogative.

His first work of propaganda dates from within a few months of his accession. Writing in Latin{65}, he laments how England was fallen from her old glory. Formerly, her sons had been brave in war and obedient in peace to the authorities. Now, the clergy were grown lax, the nobility sunk in idleness, and the people as a whole suffering a steep moral decline. the only answer was a reform from above, which would begin by abolishing the the all-corrupting weed. Since these arguments had no observable effect, James made his next attempt in English.

Published anonymously in 1604 – it was only publicly acknowledged in 1616 – A Counterblaste to Tobacco repeats but also elaborates the earlier pamphlet. Smoking is condemned as a new custom learned from barbarians. Its medical benefits are denied. Rather, it is, in the strongest terms alleged to be harmful: it is addictive; it "makes a kitchen… oftentimes in the inward parts of men, soiling and infecting them, with an unctuous and oily Soote as hath bene found in some great Tobacco takers, that after their death were opened"{66}. Finally, comes the famous peroration to the English people:

Have you not reason then to bee ashamed, and to forbeare this filthie noveltie, so basely grounded, so foolishly received and so grossly mistaken in the right use thereof? In your abuse thereof sinning against God, harming yourselves in person and in goods, and taking also thereby the markes and notes of vanitie upon you: by the custome thereof making your selves to be wondered at by all forraine civil Nations, and by all strangers that come among you, to be scorned and contemned. A custome lothsome to the eye, hateful to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomeless{67}.

The cries of a few flatterers aside, the answer to this Royal question was a firm "no". The English continued to smoke. And so the King tried supplementing persuasion with force. By a Proclamation dated the 17th of October, 1604, he raised the import duty payable on tobacco by exactly two thousand percent – from 2d to 6/8d the pound. But, while, looked at on paper, this was a fierce increase, it had little more practical effect than the pamphlets. The tax was evaded by smuggling and by home cultivation. Had James been allowed his way in all else, he might have continued his fiscal attack. As it was, however, he was compelled by circumstances to suspend it.

Tobacco Turns to Gold

After their first years of poverty, certain of the English settlers in North America realised that there was money to be had from growing tobacco for export. The first known shipment to England was made in 1613, but was ill-received, the Nicotiana rustica that was native to Virginia being decidedly inferior to the tabacum that was to be had from the Spanish plantations. But, with the replacement of the poorer with the better strain, the conquest of the English market rapidly began. In 1616-7, Virginia sent 2,300 pounds to London, compared with 58,300 Spanish pounds. Within two years, Virginia was sending more than 20,000 pounds{68}. In 1620, 40,000 pounds were imported{69} As the trade increased, the colonists made both mercantile and political allies in England; and effort was soon diverted from the suppression of all tobacco to the promotion of Virginian tobacco at the expense of foreign.

At the same time, James continued in need of money. It was now discovered how easy it was to tax imported tobacco, and what immense sums could be raised from it. In 1608, he lowered the duty to one shilling, entrusting its collection to one of his lovers. In 1615, he made the import of tobacco into a Royal monopoly – in open breach of the law as decisively stated in 1602 – and farmed it out for a yearly rent of £14,000. In 1619, he tightened the monopoly by prohibiting the cultivation of tobacco around London. The following year, he extended the prohibition to the whole of England, so starting a war that still continues, if with abatements, between State and citizen over the right to grow the herb of one's choice in his own back garden.

If with greater moderation, Charles I shared his father's detestation of tobacco; and he would have none of his courtiers use it in his presence. But he also was too short of money to pick and choose its source. He continued the monopoly. To this, in 1633, he added the licensing of retailers. He and James both railed against the allegedly addictive nature of tobacco. Yet, while, in all succeeding reigns, there have been innumerable subjects able to give up its use for various reasons, no British Government has ever found the will to do without the revenue raised from it.

During the eighteenth century, indeed, not even the frequent wars with France were suffered to disrupt the trade. From its small beginnings, American tobacco had long since acquired the predominance on the world market that it still justly holds. The French conceived so passionate a fondness for it that they quite neglected to develop their own plantations in Louisiana and Martinique. The British Government feared that, in in the event of a wartime embargo, the French would, however reluctantly, shift the balance of their purchases, so diminishing its revenue and inviting the resentment of the wealthy and influential tobacco interest. The French Government had no wish to compound its disastrous record in the wars with England by depriving its subjects of their favourite tobacco. Therefore, an agreement was reached. By special licence, the trade would continue in time of war, the ships involved in it leaving from a named port in Great Britain to a named port in France, carrying only tobacco and returning empty{70}. It was in part the prospect of open access to Virginia that had the French take the side of the revolted American colonists: and the close naval blockade of France during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars – during which more desperate struggles the old agreements were not renewed – pressed never so hard as in its limiting the availability of American tobacco.

It was the realisation generally that tobacco could, in spite of all doubts on other grounds, be made an ever-flowing fountain of money that brought its persecutions to a halt. The various German prohibitions were scarcely sooner shown to have failed than they removed and taxes imposed in their place. In Bohemia, within three years of the complaint, mentioned above, about the popular disobedience of the laws against tobacco, the trade was made legal and subject to tax. In 1669, the Elector of Bavaria, financially embarrassed, called the Diet into session and agreed a tax on tobacco, the decree of 1652 being withdrawn. In 1670, the Emperor himself was brought round to the creation of a State monopoly. Soon after his accession, in 1689, Peter the Great of Russia repealed all the prohibitions, associating snuffing and smoking – both learned from the West – with modernity. In 1697, for a down payment of £13,000, he sold a monopoly of its importation and sale to an English stock company.

The Persecution of Tobacco – Three

It may seem strange that the only serious persecution of modern times took place in the United States. Not only have the Americans their enviable written Constitution and Bill of Rights, both designed for the restraint of improper athority, but, as said already, their southern states grow and export some of the finest tobacco in the world. Yet they also have always had among them a large and well-organised puritan minority; and, during the second half of the last century, this minority conceived a wild aversion, first to cigarettes, and then to all tobacco.

Introduced in its modern form from abroad, the cigarette came late to the United States. Even so, it rapidly established itself as the main form of tobacco use, largely displacing both quid-chewing and the pipe. In 1865, less than 20 million cigarettes were produced. By 1880, this figure had risen to 500 million. Another five years, and it had risen to 1 billion. Another five years, and it had doubled, to 2 billion. By 1895, 4 billion cigarettes were produced{71}.

The reason for this growth was that cigarettes were both cheap and convenient. For this reason they gave offence to the puritans. First, rumours were spread. It was claimed that the papers were saturated with opium and arsenic, that the tobacco was reused from old cigar butts picked off the street, or that it was urinated on to give it flavour. Accusations of effeminacy were made. "The cigarette is designed for boys and women" said The New York Times in 1884.

[T]he decadence of Spain began when the Spaniards adopted cigarettes, and if this pernicious practice obtains among adult Americans, the ruin of the Republic is at hand{72}.

Alternatively, it was claimed that boys were turning to cigarettes. Our own anti-smokers are not the first to realise what may be achieved by playing on the supposed threat to children posed by tobacco. The country was swamped with lying or exaggerated propaganda on this theme. Children would go colour blind, it was said, if they smoked cigarettes. They would go bald. Their growth would be stunted. They would go insane. They would be sterile. They would be impotent. They would become sexually promiscuous. They would become moral degenerates. "Many and many a bright lad" said Charles Hubbell, a New York school commissioner in the 1890s

has had his will power weakened, his moral principle sapped, his nervous system wrecked, and his whole life spoiled before he is seventeen years old by the detested cigarette. The 'cigarette fiend' in time becomes a liar and a thief. He will commit petty thefts to get money to feed his insatiable appetite for nicotine. He lies to his parents, his teachers, and his best friends. He neglects his studies and, narcotized by nicotine, sits at his desk half stupified, his desire for work, his ambition, dulled if not dead{73}.

By 1901, Louisiana and Wyoming were the only States left in the Union not to have passed laws restricting the sale and public consumption of cigarettes. In some States, both were prohibited. In the Indiana legislature, a bill had been introduced that, if passed, would have subjected public smokers to imprisonment and a fine, together with disfranchisement and incapacity to hold any office of trust or profit. In Chicago, a special clinic was opened, for the "cure" of smokers; and hundreds of the repentant guilty queaued to have their palates painted with silver nitrate solution. When a touring opera company visited Kansas, it shifted the first act of Carmen from outside a cigarette factory to outside a dairy. The campaigners were so confident, so contemptuous of the basic rules according to which a free society must operate, that, when the Supreme Court of Illinois struck down a State law against the sale of cigarettes, they actually began a campaign to abolish the independence of the judiciary.

But the American anti-smokers failed. They never obtained a federal prohibition. Without this, it was almost impossible to enforce the State laws. The Constitutional bar to restrictions on interstate commerce allowed a large mail order business to grow and flourish. In some States, the laws were so loosely drafted that they were repealed by human ingenuity: matches were sold at 10c the box, with a packet of cigarettes given free. While the number produced fell at first – as low as two billion in 1901 – it soon returned to its spectacular climb, reaching nearly eight billion by 1910{74}. Moreover, once the early claims about the effects of smoking on health had been tested and falsified, the laws began, one after the other, to be repealed. Even where not repealed, they fell largely into disuse. By the American entry into the Great War, in 1917, it was considered almost natural that the troops sent to France should be assigned their daily packet of cigarettes. By 1928, the number of cigarettes produced in the United States reached 100 billion{75}.

But what really turned the puritan attack in America was the success of the campaign against alcohol. This had involved much the same people who denounced the cigarette, but had been vastly more impassioned. There had been decades of propaganda. Temperance preachers had gone from town to town, dipping worms in glasses of beer, then taking them out dead, to show the supposed effect of alcohol on the human body. Songs were composed and taught to the children. As early as 1851, the State of Maine had made the sale of alcoholic drinks illegal but for medical reasons. At last, in 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, allowing a Federal prohibition. "The reign of tears is over" said the popular evangelist, Billy Sunday on the passage, in 1920, of the Volstead Act that imposed the prohibition. "The slums will soon only be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent"{76}.

For a while, it was supposed that, if drink could be made illegal, it might be just as possible to secure a Nineteenth Amendment against the other great enemy of the pleasure-hating bigots of America. "Prohibition is won, now for tobacco" said Billy Sunday{77}. But the prohibition was unenforceable. Too many people had too strong a taste for drink ever to be kept away from it. Smuggling and illegal home production both rose spectacularly, and every effort to prevent them was a failure. Within ten years, more than half a million Americans had been arrested for some violation of the anti-alcohol laws. Another 35,000 had died from alcoholic poisoning{78}. The laws were repealed in 1933. But, for thirteen years, criminals had been allowed to take over the running of a great and profitable industry. The effects of this, on the organisation of crime and on public honesty, have never been reversed. A lesson partly learned, for the next forty years, tobacco would be left alone.


By 1930, tobacco seemed, seemed, to at least one well-informed observer, to have finally triumphed. "[A] glance at the statistics" declared Count Corti,

proves convincingly that the [non-smokers] are but a feeble and ever-dwindling minority{79}. The hopeless nature of their struggle becomes plain when we remember that all countries, whatever their form of government, now encourage and facilitate the passion for smoking in every conceivable way, merely for the sake of the revenue which it produces….

In European countries, no serious attempt to prohibit smoking has been made in recent times. Though it is possible to enforce the drink laws in the United States by means of a gigantic organisation, any proposal to deal in the same way with smoking would call forth such a storm of disapproval as would instantly sweep any government out of office that attempted it, and the same may be confidently affirmed of every country in the world. If we consider how in the past the efforts of the most absolute despots the world has ever seen were powerless to stop the spread of smoking we may rest assured that any such attempts to day, when the habit has grown to such gigantic dimensions, can result only in a miserable fiasco{80}.

Evidently, Corti had anticipated neither the antipathy of the National Socialists nor the medical discoveries, or claims, of the next sixty years. So far from a dwindling minority, the non-smokers are now a growing majority of at least the British and American populations. Yet, tempting as it might be to dismiss his conclusion as disproved by later events, Corti's main point – that smoking and the other main uses of tobacco are too securely entrenched to be easily dislodged – is probably as good today as when it was made. It may be, as the anti-smokers implicitly assume, that users of tobacco are made rather than born; and that, given continued hectoring, the number can be reduced eventually to zero. More likely, if I draw the right lesson from history, many, or most, of them are drawn to it by some requirement of their nature. Neither the threat of Hell-fire, made by the American Church, nor the threat of earthly torments, made and actually carried out, by Murad IV, could entirely hold tobacco and its users apart. Nor, if ever tried, will the more sanitised, though also better policed, persecutions desired by Action on Smoking and Health have any greater success.

Yet, for all these considerations, it remains, now as throughout the past three centuries, that the surest protection of tobacco is not the propensity of the governed to resist, but the insatiable need of the governors for money. During the fiscal year 1987-8, the British Government raised £5,775 million in excise duty and value added tax from the sale of tobacco products{81}. This gigantic sum is equivalent to half the hospital bill to the National Health Service, or one fifth of the defence budget. It is also greater than the national income of most black African countries. To suppose that, without a reduction of its spending that would be unique in living memory, any likely government would do without this source of revenue is inconceivable. And, to suppose that, having made the necessary reductions, one would not be prevented, by its political and economic ideology, from coming between its subjects and their preferences is equally inconceivable.

"There is no stopping us" says David Simpson. We shall see.



1. The Daily Telegraph, 20/9/89.

2. In 1970, it was stated to Parliament that "there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that snuff- taking is harmful" (Hansard, 15/12/70). This opinion has been repeatedly endorsed by Dr M.A.H. Russell, an expert whose writings against smoking are frequently published in The Guardian (for a detailing of his more extravagant and absurd claims, see my The Right to Smoke: A Religious View, FOREST, 1989, £1.00 – and, I might say, worth every penny). For his evidence regarding snuff, see: The Lancet, 1/3/80; The British Medical Jour nal, 26/9/81; The Lancet, 14/12/85). So faras I know, no one has even hinted that there might be any danger from passive snuff-taking. In 1978, accepting the evidence, and hoping to shift consumption from a tobacco product considered dangerous to one as yet found perfectly safe, the Government exempted snuff from excise duty. The resulting difference in price is worth bearing in mind. My smoking friends lay out an average of £10 per week on cigarettes. £5 has bought me enough snuff to last the rest of the century.

In passing, I might add that there are dangerous brands of snuff. The Bavarians have, or had, one called Schmaltzer, having a base of Brazilian tobacco flour, to which lime and lard and powdered glass are added. Clearly, though, the danger here is not in the tobacco.

3. As it happens, there is no good evidence for there being any risk from" pas sive smoking". It is forever being claimed that such evidence has been found, and sceptics are referred to the Fourth Report of the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health, a 68 page document published by the Government in the March of 1988. This Report does, indeed, support the claim, that a non-smoking spouse of a smoker runs somewhere between a 10% and 30% greater risk of contracting lung cancer than the non-smoking spouse of a non-smoker. But, if we look to this support, rather than what is most often piled on it, we see that the risk of lung cancer is estimated to rise from 10:100,000 to 12 or 13:100,000. In the first place, only a fool or a fanatic without regard for common sense could panic at a risk so trivial. In the second, a statistical variation so wide may be taken as pretty meaningless (See The Times, 29/3/88 – Morality Overcome by Fumes, by T.E. Utley).

4. The Daily Telegraph, 20/9/89, Stubbing out the Habit, by Maurice Weaver.

5. While quoting from statements made on televison, I might as well add the words of Ms Joyce Epstein, the Assistant Director of Action on Smoking and Health. Asked on the BBC programme, "Over to You", on the 12th of August, 1989, whether cigarette should be banned completely, she answered that there was "no right to smoke". This is, of course, ambiguous. She might have been saying, that we have no right to do what she considers bad for us. Alternatively, she might have been giving voice to the dreadful – and perfectly unEnglish – notion, that whatever is not specifically allowed by the law is forbidden. In either case, I scarcely need say, she would be hard put to raise any principled objection to Stalin or Hitler.

6. The Daily Telegraph, 14/11/89. It may be of interest that strong cigarettes will remain on sale in Greece until 2006.

7. Ibid.

8. Among the imagined – or, at least, the unproven – dangers of tobacco, consider the following: In the Hamburger Frendenblatt (22/3/44), an article was published by one G. Wenzmer. Called "Should Women be Allowed to Smoke?", its argument was that smoking damaged the ovaries. It was stated that marriages between heavy smokers produced an average of 0.66 children, while marriages between non-smokers produced an average of 3 children – Cited, Richard Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich, Weidenfield & Nicolson, London, 1971, p. 264.

9. From Robert Proctor, Racial Hygeine: Medicine under the Nazis, Harverd University Press, Mass. and London, 1988, p. 248.

10. Ibid, p. 240.

11. Quoted in Heather Ashton and Rob Stepney, Smoking: Psychology and Pharmacology, Tavistock Publications, London, 1983, p. 144.

12. Take, for example, Gloucestershire County Council, which has given its employees two years in which to give up smoking. Failure to give up will bring dismissal (The Daily Telegraph, 6/10/89). Take also one of the sections in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice. In the January of 1990, the Chief Clerk there imposed a ban on smoking, on the understanding that separate facilities would be provided for smokers. By the following August, no such facilities have yet been provided – though, in possible compensation, the ban has from time to time been suspended. The Lord Chancellor's Department as a whole is currently going through some openly farcical process of "consultation" preparatory to imposing a general ban.

13. It was actually the 21st of October, the true 12th having fallen the Wednesday but one previously. All European dates before the calendar reform of 1582 are still given in the Old Style, which, by the end of the fifteenth century, had lost nine days since 325 AD. This is a trivial point; but, as it will doubtless be argued over ad nauseam in the correspondence page of The Times in 1992, I might as well make it here in advance of everyone else.

14. Numbers, 16:46-50.

15. Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historiæ, Bk. XII, cap. xxxii.

16. Some oracles were staffed by means purely coercive. See, for example, Trimalchio's reminiscence: "Oh, with my own eyes, I've seen the Sybil at Cumae hanging in her cage. And when the boys used to ask her 'Sybil, what do you want', she would answer 'I want to die'" (Cena Trimalchionis, cap. 48).

17. Pliny, op. cit., XXXVIII, liii.

18. Ibid, lxiii.

19. Ibid, lxvii: "[in casu phthisiscis] fimi… aridi sed pabulo uiridi pasto boue fumum harundine haustum prodesse tradunt". Later in his work (XXIX, v), Pliny alludes without evident irony to the popular funerary inscription "turba periui medicorum" (I was finished off by the doctors).

20. Herodotus, The Histories, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt (revised, A.R. Burn), Penguin Books, London, 1972, p. 295 (in the original – D, lxxiv- lxxv).

21. One Huron legend, for example, tells how, long before the coming of the white man, there was a great famine over the land. All the tribes came together in a council and called on the Great Spirit Manitou for help. In answer, a beautiful and naked girl descended from the clouds. Leaning on her palms, she sat on the ground before the people, and announced that she was sent to bring food. This said, she returned into the sky. Where her right palm had been, corn sprouted, and where her left had been, potatoes. But from where she had sat tobacco appeared (see W. Koskowski, The Habit of Tobacco Smoking, Staples Press Ltd, London, 1955, pp. 39-40). Much as this may appeal to the imagination, it is probably not true.

22. The earliest extant account of smoking is given by Romano Pane, the Papal missionary, in his De Insularium Ritibus of 1497.

23. This is given in L'Agriculture et la Maison Rustique of that year by the brothers Liebault. For a few centuries, it went among some medical writers under the name of petum, which appears to have been derived from an ancient Brazilian word for the plant. The etymology of the vulgar names of tobacco, tabac, taboc etc. is rather less easily settled. It might derive from the place names of Tobasco or Tobago; or from Toboca, the name of the Y-shaped pipe through which some of the Indians smoked. Other explanations have, from time to time, been suggested. But, rather than go though these, it seems fairer to say that no one knows the origin.

24. As a man who has taken six months to get through half an ounce, I find this rate of consumption almost incredible. Yet I read that Napoleon took eight pounds a month, and that Frederick the Great, scorning snuffboxes except as ornaments, would daily fill one of his pockets with snuff!

25. From Paul Hentzner, Itinerarium, Nuremberg, 1612 – quoted, Compton Mackenzie, Sublime Tobacco, Chatto and Windus, London, 1957, p. 88.

26. Koskowski, op. cit., p. 35.

27. Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 345. Novelist, essayist, poet, playwright, as well as classical liberal, the author's life (1883-1972) almost exactly spanned the great socialist interruption. But he found consolation in tobacco. He smoked his first cigarette in 1887 and his first whole cigar in 1891; and his rough estimate was that, by the 29th of August, 1956, he had smoked 200,000 pipes of tobacco (ibid).

28. Quoted, Count Egon Corti, A History of Smoking (translated from the German by Paul England), George G. Harrap & Co Ltd, London, 1931, p. 257.

29. Ibid, p. 254-5.

30. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, New American Library, New York, 1962, p. 93.

31. Florence King, "I'd Rather Smoke than Kiss", in National Review (USA), 9/7/90.

32. Iliad, xii, 322-328.

33. Quoted, Corti, op. cit., p. 103.

34. Ibid, p. 99.

35. David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II, Oxford University Press (2nd edtion, 1956), Volume One, p. 292.

36. The Diary of Samuel Pepys (eds, Robert Latham and William Matthews), Bell & Hyman Limited, London, 1972, Volume VI, p. 120. The double hyphen is editorial, to indicate Pepys' own use of hyphenation.

37. Ibid, footnote 2.

38 Quoted, Mackenzie, op. cit., pp 157-8.

39. W. Hale-White, Textbook of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Pentland Young, Edinburgh – cited, Ben Whittaker, The Global Fix: the Crisis of Drug Addiction, Methuen, London, 1988, p. 146.

40. See, for example, David Loshak, "A Whiff of Consolation for the Smoker", in The Daily Telegraph, 30/10/81; or the Late T.E. Utley, "Lighting up for Liberty", in The Times, 3/8/87.

41. See, for example, Cornelia H. Dam: "[T]he act of smoking, even on ordinary occasions, [was] a pledge of mutual confidence among the Indians as taking salt together is among the Arabs, and the pledge of the peace pipe was seldom broken by individuals or tribes until the white man came to teach the Indian the material advantages of perfidy", ("Tobacco among the Indians", in The American Mercury, XVI, no. 61 (January 1929), p. 76).

42. Joseph Addison, Richard Steele et al., The Spectator, No. 568, Friday, July 16, 1714, "Everyman" Edition, London, 1966, Volume Four, p. 287.

43. Thomas Babbington Macaulay, History of England from the Accession of James II, ("Everyman" Edition), J.M. Dent & sons Ltd, London, 1910, Vol. 1, p. 285 (Chapter III).

44. Quoy qu'en dise Aristote, et sa digne Cabale,
Le Tabac est divin, il n'est rien qui l'égal…

Lines from his Le Festin de Pierre of 1677, a versification of Molière's Don Juan – Corti, op. cit., p. 179 and illustration facing p. 188.

45. See supra, footnote 21.

46. Koskowski, op. cit., p. 70.

47. Ibid. In support of this last, Koskowski cites B. Laufer, W.D. Hambly and R. Linton. Tobacco and its use in Africa, Chicago, 1930.

48. For the regret of a priest who was unable to distinguish, see a letter home of 1550 from one father Nobrega: "All the food is difficult to digest, but God has remedied this with a plant, the smoke of which is in much aid of digestion and for other bodily ills and to drive out moisture from the stomach. No one of our brothers uses it, nor does any other of the Christians, in order not to imitate the unbelievers who like it very much. I need it because of the dampness and my catarrh, but I abstain – not what is useful for myself [do I want] but what is good for many that they might be saved"

(quoted in "The Social Role of Smoking", in Robert D. Tollinson (ed), Smoking and Society: Towards a More Balanced Assessment, D.C. Heath and Company, Mass., 1986, p. 170).

49. Issued, 27th of October, 1589 – quoted, Corti, op. cit., p. 107.

50. 1 Cor, 6:9-10.

51. On this point, and on some of the following, see my The Right to Smoke: A Christian View.

52. 1 Cor, 11:14 – "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" (He oude aute he phusis didaskei humas hoti…).

53. 2 Peter, 2:12 (…hos aloga zoa phusika, geggenemena eis halosin kai phthoran…).

54. The phrase is taken from Clement of Alexandria – his Pædagogus, 3.3.

55. Ibid, p. 115 – quoting from H. Piltz, über den Tabak und das Rauchen, Leipzig, 1899, p. 148.

56. Corti, op. cit., p. 50.

57. Macaulay, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 129 (Chapter III).

58. From his Die Trunckene Trunkenheit (Drunk without Drinking), Nuremberg, 1658 – quoted, Corti, op. cit., p. 119.

59. Ibid, p. 110.

60. Ibid, p. 116.

61. Mark, 6:15.

62. Koran, Sura, V, verse 93.

63. On this point, see H.J. Eysenck, "Smoking and Health", in Tollinson, op. cit., pp 32-7.

64. Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 102.

65. Misocapnus Sive de Abusu Tobacci Lusus Regius (Smoke-Hatred, or a Kingly Sport on the Use of Tobacco), London, 1603. I have never seen a copy of this pamphlet, but am following the summary given by Corti – op. cit., pp 76-7.

66. A Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604), reprinted by the Rodale Press, London, 1954, p. 32.

67. Ibid, p. 36.

68. Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 110.

69. Corti, op. cit., p. 92.

70. Mackenzie, op. cit., pp 213-4, gives an example, dated the 3rd of June, 1756, of the form of licence issued:

"Upon application made to His Majesty in Council, a Pass hath been ordered to be forthwith issued under the Great Seal for the following ship to export Tobacco to France, in like manner as was done during the last war with France. The Marion of Glasgow, British Built, Burthen one hundred and fifty tons or thereabouts, carrying Twelve men, Alexander Morrison, Master, Laden with two hundred hogsheads of Tobacco, to sail from Glasgow to Bourdeux in France.

"I am ordered to acquaint you with this information of the Commissioners of His Majesty's Customs, that the necessary directions may be given to the proper officers at the Port of Glasgow from whence the ship is to sail".

71. Gordon L. Dillow, "The Hundred-Year War against the Cigarette", reprinted from the February/March 1981 issue of American Heritage by The Tobacco Institute, Washington D.C., p. 6.

72. Ibid, p. 7.

73. Ibid.

74. Ibid, p. 12.

75. Ibid, p. 14. Compare this, however, with the 695 billion produced in 1978 – p. 6. Many of these were for export rather than home consumption. But the sheer inconceivable number stands as tribute to the productive power of the American economy.

76. Quoted by Milton Friedman, An Economist's Protest: Columns in Political Economy, Thomas Horton & Co, New Jersey, 1972, p. 160.

77. Quoted, Dillow, op. cit., p. 13.

78. Whittaker, op. cit., p. 137.

79. He gives the following table – which I abbreviate – for average numbers per head of population:

     |         |  C I G A R S  | C I G A R E T T E S |
     |         |       |       |            |        |
     |         | Pre-  | 1927  |   Pre-1914 |  1927  |
     |         | 1914  |       |            |        |
     |COUNTRY  |       |       |            |        |
     |         |       |       |            |        |
     |Germany  | 119   | 103   |   195      |  502   |  
     |England  |  12   |   4   |   201      |  811   |
     |France   |  16   |  10   |    96      |  248   |  
     |Holland  | ---   | 157   |   ---      |  341   |
     |Italy    |  34   |  39   |   104      |  372   |  
     |Sweden   |  38   |  33   |   115      |  233   |
     |USA      |  90   |  62   |   143      |  840   |

80. Ibid, pp 265-7.

81. Written answer, Hansard, 19/12/88, p. 28. 

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