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Posted by on Jan 20, 2018 in Tell Me Why |

When Were the First Cigarettes Made?

When Were the First Cigarettes Made?

Cigarettes appear to have had antecedents in Mexico and Central America around the 9th century in the form of reeds and smoking tubes. The Spanish conquistadors of 1522 found the Aztec Indians of Mexico smoking a primitive cigarette in the form of tobacco stuffed into a hollow reed or cane tube. The Mayans, and the Aztecs, smoked tobacco and other psychoactive drugs in religious rituals and frequently depicted priests and deities smoking on pottery and temple engravings.

Other inhabitants of America at that time crushed shreds of tobacco and wrapped them in corn husks. However, it was the cigar that the Spaniards brought to Spain as a luxury for the wealthy. The cigarette was improvised early in the 16th Century by the beggars of Seville, who picked up discarded cigar butts, shredded them, rolled them in scraps of paper and called them cigarillos. It was not until the late 18th Century that they became respectable. The tobacco used for them was of a milder and lighter type, and the French gave them their present name of cigarette or little cigar.

The first patented cigarette machine was by Juan Nepomuceno Adorno of Mexico in 1847. However, production climbed markedly when another cigarette-making machine was developed in the 1880s by James Albert Bonsack, which vastly increased the productivity of cigarette companies, which went from making about 40,000 hand-rolled cigarettes daily to around 4 million.

A cigarette factory was set up in Havana in 1853, but the widespread use of the cigarette in the English-speaking world dates from the Crimean War (1854-1856) which introduced British soldiers to Turkish tobacco. Strangely, British taste switched later to straight Virginia tobacco. Americans prefer a blend which includes some of the Turkish variety.

hand-rolled cigarettes

In recent years a connection has been established between cigarette smoking and various diseases of the chest and lungs. There have been many attempts to dissuade the public from smoking and cigarette manufacturers have devoted a great deal of money and research in an attempt to pinpoint and eliminate the harmful elements in tobacco. Filter-tip cigarettes which accounted for only 1.4 percent of production in 1952 have now risen to more than two-thirds of the total. Many countries have started extensive campaigns to warn of the risks to health.

The widespread smoking of cigarettes in the Western world is largely a 20th-century phenomenon. At the start of the 20th century, the per capita annual consumption in the USA was 54 cigarettes (with less than 0.5% of the population smoking more than 100 cigarettes per year), and consumption there peaked at 4,259 per capita in 1965. At that time, about 50% of men and 33% of women smoked (defined as smoking more than 100 cigarettes per year).

By 2000, consumption had fallen to 2,092 per capita, corresponding to about 30% of men and 22% of women smoking more than 100 cigarettes per year, and by 2006 per capita consumption had declined to 1,691; implying that about 21% of the population smoked 100 cigarettes or more per year.

German doctors were the first to identify the link between smoking and lung cancer, which led to the first anti tobacco movement in Nazi Germany. During World War I and World War II, cigarettes were rationed to soldiers. During the Vietnam War, cigarettes were included with C-ration meals. In 1975, the U.S. government stopped putting cigarettes in military rations. During the second half of the 20th century, the adverse health effects of tobacco smoking started to become widely known and text-only health warnings became common on cigarette packets.

text-only health warning on a cigarette packet

The United States has not implemented graphical cigarette warning labels, which are considered a more effective method to communicate to the public the dangers of cigarette smoking. Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Hungary, the United Kingdom, France, Romania, Singapore, Egypt, Nepal and Turkey, however, have both textual warnings and graphic visual images displaying, among other things, the damaging effects tobacco use has on the human body.

The cigarette has evolved much since its conception; for example, the thin bands that travel transverse to the “axis of smoking” (thus forming circles along the length of the cigarette) are alternate sections of thin and thick paper to facilitate effective burning when being drawn, and retard burning when at rest. Synthetic particulate filters may remove some of the tar before it reaches the smoker.

The “holy grail” for cigarette companies has been a cancer-free cigarette. On record, the closest historical attempt was produced by scientist James Mold. Under the name project TAME, he produced the XA cigarette. However, in 1978, his project was terminated. Since 1950, the average nicotine and tar content of cigarettes has steadily fallen. The fall in nicotine content has led to smokers inhaling larger volumes per puff.

Content for this question contributed by Cindy Manning, resident of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA