Tobacco has only been introduced as a commodity into human society for a relatively short period of time, with a history of just over 600 years, but its impact on history has been profound and far-reaching. Today, as an economic crop, tobacco has almost affected the lives of everyone, including non-smokers (such as passive smokers and related industry practitioners). Below, we will introduce the evolution of the tobacco industry from elegant pipes to diverse electronic cigarettes.
Pipes: The Tool for Discovering Tobacco
The earliest known users of pipes can be traced back to Native Americans in America. Archaeological evidence from Aztec and Maya sites suggests that Native Americans used pipes as a ceremonial tool to communicate with their gods by inhaling the smoke produced by burning tobacco. They discovered that inhaling the smoke produced by burning tobacco could induce a slow, numb state of anesthesia (nicotine poisoning) but this state was considered to be a way of "communicating with the gods." As the practice of smoking tobacco using pipes gradually spread throughout America, it evolved from being a purely ceremonial practice to becoming a part of everyday culture.
This history spans from around 3000 BC to the 1400s, and smoking was slow to develop, with its use remaining confined to local Native American cultures. However, over the next six hundred years, this plant brought huge economic benefits to the world as well as countless social problems. The turning point in the history of tobacco occurred in the 15th century.
In the murals of the Maya civilization, many scenes depict Native Americans smoking tobacco, including images of Native Americans smoking pipes. These murals are important artifacts for studying the history of tobacco use in America.
With the rise of the European Renaissance and capitalism, European countries dispatched fleets to explore overseas markets. Columbus believed that sailing west would take him to the east, but he accidentally discovered America. There, his sailor, Geryz, tried smoking and became the first European smoker. Although smoking initially caused panic and opposition, tobacco gradually spread throughout Europe. Spain became the first country in Europe to grow tobacco and led its widespread use in colonies and trade. Tobacco was introduced to various colonies by the Spanish Armada and ultimately made its way to China in 1575, becoming part of Chinese culture.
18-19th centuries: Formation of the World Tobacco Market
In the 18th century, the tobacco industry developed rapidly, but the contradictions between capital and religion also deepened. The church could not tolerate smokers emitting a "devilish breath" during church worship, which would pollute the sacred dome. However, many clergy members themselves became smokers. In 1590, Pope Urban VII declared war on the "devil" and claimed to expel all smokers from the church. This was the first public smoking ban in history. Unfortunately, the ban only lasted for 13 days as Pope Urban VII died of malaria. The anti-smoking movement was grand, but it ultimately failed to achieve its goal.
Although several anti-smoking movements were launched afterwards, their effects were minimal. The tobacco industry continued to thrive, and smoking pipes as smoking tools also flourished. The materials and craftsmanship used in making smoking pipes also continued to improve.
In Europe, the smoking pipe manufacturing industry in Britain was the strongest, to the extent that smoking pipes became a cultural symbol. Sherlock Holmes, for example, became famous for his smoking pipe. Today, luxury brand Dunhill in Britain still produces smoking pipes. However, due to a lack of communication with the outside world, China took a unique development path and eventually created the familiar copper tobacco pot.
Until the 19th century, the world tobacco market was mainly composed of smoking pipes, cigars, snuff, chewing tobacco, and hookah, with smoking pipes being the most traditional way of smoking. Cigars originated from the "Spanish roll" of whole tobacco leaves rolled up by Spaniards, which was later named "ciger" by the French. Snuff, chewing tobacco, hookah, and other products were products that were integrated with the local culture during the colonial process. This market structure was not broken until the invention of cigarettes, when people began to truly realize the impact of smoking on health.
Until the 19th century, smoking pipes were still the most elegant way of smoking.
Cigarettes: the protagonist of the contemporary tobacco industry
The advent of cigarettes changed the landscape of the tobacco industry.
The smoking of cigarettes, a niche smoking method, originated from the invention of the Turks. Unlike cigars, cigarettes use the waste parts of tobacco. Some small tobacco leaves or inferior tobacco that cannot be made into cigars are cut into crumbs and rolled up with newspapers for smoking. Due to the poor quality, even though the French government began producing cigarettes in 1843, it never became popular.
However, after the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853, cigarettes quickly became popular because of their convenience. Traditional pipes and cigars require a lot of time and attention to smoke, which is a luxury for soldiers on the battlefield. Cigarettes, on the other hand, can be smoked at any time and only take a few minutes to satisfy the soldiers' craving for nicotine, thus rapidly spreading in the military. With the end of the war, soldiers brought their smoking habits back to their homelands, causing cigarettes to become popular in various regions.
In addition to their low price and convenient smoking method, the different cigarette-making process is also an important factor in their widespread dissemination. Traditional tobacco products are mostly made by directly sun-drying and fermenting tobacco leaves, while cigarettes are baked and mixed with a large number of additives (such as flavorings and combustion aids) to improve the quality of the tobacco.
Cigarettes, cigars, various types of snuff, replaced pipes as the main consumer of tobacco.
The high concentration of traditional tobacco products causes a very pungent and irritating sensation when inhaled, causing many people to give up learning to smoke. Napoleon, for example, mentioned in his diary that he gave up smoking because of this. However, with the decrease in the concentration of cigarette smoke, the threshold for smoking has been greatly lowered, significantly increasing the smoking rate. In addition, the clove added to cigarettes can cause a slight numbing of the mouth and lungs of smokers, providing a kind of pleasure, which gradually became a consensus among smokers for "lung passage" smoking.
During the two world wars, cigarettes became even more prevalent as a military necessity. The initiator of the first large-scale anti-smoking movement in modern history was the Nazis, and its severity was unprecedented. However, the Nazis linked the ban on smoking with racial discrimination, causing people to resent it, which led to a significant setback in the anti-smoking movement. It was not until the late 1930s that the anti-smoking movement gradually resumed, but its degree of strictness still did not reach the level of the Nazi era.
As the movement unfolded, the relationship between smokers, tobacco merchants, and non-smokers became increasingly tense. In the 20th century, a new "disrupter" appeared - the electronic cigarette.
E-cigarettes: The New Trend
In 2000, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner named Han Li proposed the concept of diluting nicotine with propylene glycol and inhaling it through an ultrasonic device, which was the prototype of e-cigarettes. In 2004, he obtained a patent for the invention of e-cigarettes and began selling them the following year. With the promotion of the global anti-smoking movement, e-cigarettes began to become popular in overseas markets. Major tobacco companies followed suit in research to respond to the huge impact of this new phenomenon on the market.
E-cigarettes have broken the concept that tobacco equals cigarettes. At the same time, the threshold for e-cigarettes is significantly lower compared to cigarettes. Throughout history, the popularity of cigarettes, as well as subsequent "light" cigarettes such as slim and menthol cigarettes, has expanded the smoking population with each lowering of the smoking threshold.
From the birth of e-cigarettes to the present, it has been almost 20 years. Traditional tobacco companies have entered the industry, and numerous e-cigarette brands have emerged like mushrooms, from wild growth to standardized development. Countries have gradually enacted regulatory measures for the e-cigarette industry. For example, in 2022, China's National Tobacco Monopoly Bureau established the "E-cigarette Management Measures," the national standard for e-cigarettes, and supporting policies, which include e-cigarettes, aerosols, e-cigarette nicotine, and other new tobacco products within the scope of regulation.
From the elegant smoking pipe to the convenient cigarette and now to the trendy e-cigarettes, the tobacco industry has ushered in a new era.