In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered that the Cuban natives smoked a plant that was unknown in Europe - tobacco. However, it was André Thevet, a monk and navigator, who brought the seeds of this plant back from Brazil in 1556; he planted them in his garden in Angoulême and studied them.
From therapeutic use to the first tax on tobacco
In the same era, Jean Nicot, French ambassador to Portugal, discovered that tobacco could be used as a poultice to soothe skin disorders and snorted to treat respiratory infections. In 1565, he sent some to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, who suffered from severe migraines. The queen’s symptoms were relieved and tobacco use spread in the form of snuff, chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco. Therefore, this plant was originally used for medicinal purposes!
Richelieu soon realised that the government could benefit from this and established the first tobacco tax in 1629. Colbert decreed a state monopoly on tobacco production and sales in 1681. This was so ‘successful’ that a century later, Talleyrand stated cynically: ‘I promise to do away with this terrible vice [tobacco], the day someone shows me a single virtue capable of putting one hundred and twenty million into the State coffers each year.’
From tobacco to tobacco addiction
During the Peninsular War in the early 19th century, Napoleon’s troops discovered the Spanish way of smoking tobacco: rolled inside a thin sheet of paper. And so the habit began.
The pharmacist and chemist, Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin discovered nicotine in 1809. The ball was rolling and in 1830, the tobacco industry was born. In 1880, James Duke took over the pre-rolled cigarette factory started by his father, and a young mechanic by the name of James Bonsack offered to design a machine for him that would automate cigarette production. Before launching production, the business partners had to overcome a huge challenge in preventing the tobacco from drying out. This is when additives began to be used in tobacco. Production rocketed and James Duke found himself with more cigarettes than he could sell. To clear his stock, he ramped up his marketing efforts. And so the era of industrial cigarette production began.
Tobacco use is criticised and fought
The harmful effects of tobacco were proven in the middle of the 20th century, although this has not interfered with its success, even today… At the instigation of several physicians, the addiction and damaging effects of tobacco were soon revealed by a new science: tobacco treatment. Nicotine replacement products, along with cognitive behavioural therapies came into being. Yet tobacco use did not decline as a result and the host of illnesses it causes still does not prevent its enduring success and its blight on humanity.
The arrival of e-cigarettes
From 2012, the use of e-cigarettes became widespread, with the claim that this form of smoking significantly reduces the risks related to tobacco.
In 2016, a new object in the form of a connected device called Smoking-Stopper®, has come to the rescue of smokers. It complements the range of existing treatments as it aims to control the emotional dependence to cigarettes, which is so difficult to deal with.
All types of tobacco cause risks!
No tobacco is any better than another! When smoked, they all expose the smoker to similar risks, with a few subtle distinctions: the lighter they are, the more harm they cause.
A bit of botany
Tobacco belongs to the genus Nicotiana, in the Solanaceae family, along with tomatoes, aubergines, potatoes, chilli peppers and other vegetables, which are without danger! This large family regroups many species known for their aromatic, decorative and biological properties.
After being harvested, the plants are left to dry naturally or cured in hot air ovens. There are tobacco ‘crus’, just as there are for wine! Tobacco is also graded according to the development of its leaves, their colour, texture, vein condition, aromatic potential and combustibility. Tobacco quality is determined according to an evaluation chart that enables uniform tobacco blends to be created.
Whether dark, light or smoked, all types of tobacco are harmful. They all contain at least 12 mg of nicotine per gram of plant. The tar and carbon monoxide are not present in the plant itself, but in the smoke produced as the tobacco burns.
During combustion, the tar and nicotine potential depends on the variety, foliar stage and conditions of production; topping refers to the removal of the main shoot and increases the nicotine content.
Harvested tobacco leaves are moistened with steam, then threshed and ground before receiving additives and sauces (such as menthol, cocoa or ammonia).
The secrets of cigarettes: what no-one tells you!
The poorly understood process of cigarette manufacture warrants some clarification. It can be useful to find out what people are not saying about a product that would never obtain permission to be sold if it was to be introduced on the market today.
· The paper is manufactured using plant fibres. It is opacified and processed to ensure adequate combustion. Contrary to what is commonly reported, it is not more toxic than tobacco.
· The filter is a strip of paper or acetate. It only traps large particles, while allowing the finer ones - which are far more dangerous – and toxic gases to pass through.
· The tipping paper, which is usually yellow and speckled, joins the filter to the tobacco roll. It is made from paraffin-waxed paper to keep the smoker’s lips from sticking to the cigarette. It is perforated to enhance the air intake when the smoker inhales and thus improve combustion.
· The smoke from so-called ‘light’ cigarettes, a description that was banned in Europe in 2003, is diluted by the air that enters through the perforations, of which there are a greater number than in ‘regular’ cigarettes. Faced with their need for nicotine, smokers ‘adjust’ the way they smoke (taking longer drags on the cigarette, inhaling more deeply or taking more puffs). Therefore, there is nothing ‘light’ about the risks taken with these cigarettes!
· Roll-your-own and make-your-own tobacco; ‘more natural’ think some, ‘more ecological’ according to young people! But they are wrong! Smoking this way releases approximately four times as many toxic products that invade the body!
What actually is in your cigarette smoke?
When you light a cigarette, you can observe the chemical reaction known as combustion. The tobacco and paper ‘burn’; the cigarette is converted into smoke, leaving behind only ash.
The three types of smoke
First hand smoke is what smokers inhale and absorb into their body. Side-stream smoke is the smoke released at the tip of a burning cigarette into the air between drags. Mainstream smoke is the smoke coming from or exhaled by smokers into the surrounding air.
Each type of smoke contains different concentrations of the various toxic substances. Side-stream smoke is the most toxic, so it is unwise to leave a cigarette to burn away in an ashtray!
There are 4,000 toxic substances, including about 50 that are carcinogenic
There are estimated to be 4,000 different chemicals contained in tobacco smoke, broken down into particles of varying size and state (solid, liquid or gas).
· Among these components, nicotine is the most well-known. Produced by the tobacco plant, it has insecticidal properties and exists as tiny suspended droplets. Its structure is very similar to that of acetylcholine which ensures the transmission of incoming nerve signals to certain regions of the brain. This is what causes the so-called ‘physical’ addiction to tobacco.
· Tar is made up of variably-sized solid particles that are produced in large quantities when tobacco is burned. They are composed of many chemical compounds and are the primary carcinogens in smoke.
· Carbon monoxide (CO) is an asphyxiant gas in that it is molecularly similar to oxygen and takes the place of the latter in the blood, thus diminishing organ oxygenation. This gas increases health risks such as cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, arteritis and strokes
· The numerous irritants in smoke paralyse the bronchial cleansing systems and can cause the onset of all kinds of respiratory disorders, ranging from chronic bronchitis to lung cancer, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - debilitating illnesses that can be fatal.
· Tobacco smoke also contains heavy metals, radioactive substances and many other hazardous chemicals that are dangerous to the body.