Tobacco and America

When Christopher Columbus first made his voyage to the Americas in October of 1492, the indigenous people of Arawaks welcomed him with tobacco. This was the first encounter the western civilization had with tobacco on record. Christopher Columbus later brought tobacco back to Europe. Therefore Cuba, where the Arawaks people inhabited, has been widely known as the birthplace of tobacco. Although some thought that the Chinese had grown tobacco before Christopher Columbus discovered the new continent, there is no concrete proof of that.

There are many credible historical evidences of tobacco in the North and South American countries. In 1499, the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci sailed to an island off the coast of Venezuela and noted that the native islanders had a habit of chewing tobacco. There were mentions of the American Indians smoking tobacco in the Canadian nautical journal of 1545. In 1612, tobacco crop was grown in Virginia for the sole purpose of exportation. That was the beginning of systematic tobacco mass production.

Because of the amazing profitability, tobacco had slowly made its way from Europe to the rest of the world, thanks mostly to the relentless promotion by the European capitalists. The Portuguese had also introduced tobacco to the western Africa, but without much success. It was actually India that became the world’s major tobacco producer, as well as the main tobacco exporter, after the introduction of tobacco into the country in 1605. The popularity of growing tobacco had suppressed the growing of other crops, thereby changing the agricultural structure of tobacco-producing nations.

The middle of the sixteenth century saw the introduction of tobacco into China and Japan. It wasn’t long before these two countries had become the major tobacco producers and consumers. Throughout history, the popularity of tobacco had always been increasing at an incredible rate wherever it was introduced. Tobacco could be seen in anywhere from a person’s backyard to the global billion-dollar business. Its momentum finally slowed down in the early twentieth century due to an increasing concern about the health issues caused by tobacco smoking. After more than five hundred years of tobacco smoke pollution, the mother earth finally has a chance to take a breather.

In his journal of October 15, 1492, Columbus wrote:

“We met a man in a canoe going from Santa Maria to Fernandina; he had with him a piece of bread whice the natives make, as big as one’s fist, a calabash of water . . . and some dried leaves which are in high value among them, for a quantity of it was brought to me at San Salvador.”

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