How we changed our view on tobacco and what drove the change

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If you look back at old print adverts from the 1940s, you will see plenty of smoking. Considered something “cool” and “edgy”, cigarettes were pushed as being recommended by dentists, a cure for coughs, helpful for increasing an athlete’s performance, and even beneficial for those who want to lose weight. Today, cigarette advertising is closely regulated and even illegal in some countries. In the UK for example, cigarettes must be hidden from general display and come in bland packages.

But what is the history of cigarettes and how did we change our view on them?

How it all started

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the first cigarettes were smoked but it’s believed they were first used in Mexico and Central America in the 900s. The Aztec and Maya civilizations would smoke reeds and tobacco in special smoking tubes, as well as other substances. This trend then ended up in Spain where tobacco was wrapped in maize leaves, and later thin paper.

By the 1800s, cigarettes were being smoked throughout Europe. But another tobacco product was also becoming popular. Snus, originally from Sweden, is a moist powder placed between the lip and gums for an extended period of time. Throughout the years, products like slim sib have remained popular in Nordic countries and are still used widely in the region. Different from snuff, these flavoured (usually spearmint) products are used by those who’ve built up a high tolerance for nicotine over the years.

Snuff, on the other hand, has fallen out of popular usage. Something that was once all the rage, is now widely considered to be outdated. It was once considered something of a luxury due to its price tag, and it was a preserve of mainly the upper class. In the 1600s, people believed it had valuable medical properties such as being able to cure blindness. By the 1700s it was used widely by royalty and the elite and come the turn of the 1800s, it began to be taxed in the US.

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Eventually, snuff fell out of fashion and today it’s only available in certain places. Wet snuff, or snus, however, is still popular.

Downhill for cigarettes

By the 1960s, people were starting to warn about the effects of smoking. The first health warnings appeared on packets in 1966. This change in the attitude towards cigarettes came via advancements in the medical field. Scientists began to link smoking to respiratory issues, heart problems, and cancers. They also began to understand the addictive nature of nicotine, which encouraged people to smoke more.

But it was still hard to shake the “cool” image of smoking. Filmstars, rockstars, models, and more were often pictured with cigarettes or exhaling smoke, making shaking off the fashionable connotations more difficult.

Regulation instead has played a big part in changing the image of smoking. In some countries, you cannot have adverts for cigarettes or people smoking. In others, you cannot smoke in public places, or even on the street. There are also big fines for smoking in non-designated areas or throwing the butt on the floor. This has not only reduced the number of cigarette smokers but has driven some to look at other options, like the aforementioned snus.

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