Joyful news from the new found world (1492-1880)

The first European to smoke tobacco was the first to be persecuted for it. In October 1492, after two months at sea, Christopher Columbus reached America. When he landed in Cuba a month later, two of his crew - Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres - encountered Native Americans who presented them with tobacco leaves as an offering of friendship and the two Spaniards were initiated in the art of smoking.

The Indians of North and Central America had been chewing and smoking the plant in religious rituals since around 5000 BC, believing it to be a gift from God with the power to drive out evil spirits. Used in medicine, it was thought that tobacco smoke could cure a variety of physical ailments and, over time, men of higher status began to use it as a mild recreational drug. When used socially, it greased the wheels of social interaction and eased tensions, most famously when the pipe of peace was smoked.

The Native Americans Columbus and his men encountered used a Y-shaped pipe called a 'toboca', from which the Spanish derived the word 'tobacco'. The great explorer later described how they would take the pipe, light it at "one end and at the other chew or suck or take it in their breath that smoke which dulls their flesh and as it were intoxicates and so they say that they do not feel weariness." Both the pipe and the weed were alien to Europeans and, as Columbus's description indicates, they had no verb with which to describe the process. For years it would be known as "drinking smoke".

From the very outset, the people of the Old World were divided between those who swiftly became enamoured of tobacco and those who found the smell unpleasant and the habit depraved...

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