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An anti-smoking poster from the time of James I

An anti-smoking poster from the time of James I

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Virginia and the Birth of Smoking

The early explorers of America found that the Indians held a certain plant in reverence and smoked its dried leaves on ceremonial occasions. The tube which they used to smoke the leaves was called a "tobaco".

For Indians the pipe was sacred, to be smoked during political and religious ceremonies. The decoration of the pipe, the way of holding it and passing it from one smoker to the next, had great significance. The act of smoking together was considered a pledge of honour. However, a pipe was never to be laid bare on the ground, since this meant a breaking of a pledge, and therefore war.

Europeans tried smoking, quickly acquired the habit and brought the custom back home. By the 1570's, smoking was widespread in England. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco to the royal court and soon "tobacco drinking", as it was then called, became the mark of all fashionable men.

When the Jamestown settlement was made in Virginia, tobacco was successfully planted and a small cargo was shipped to London in 1613. By 1619, arriving shipments were of 50000lbs and, ten years later, they had risen to 1500000lbs. The economic success of Virginia was ensured.

From the beginning, however, smoking had its critics. The most famous was James I who, in 1604, published a pamphlet called "Counterblaste". He wanted Virginia's economy to be based on a more solid raw material, such as silkworm breeding.

Governments under James I, Charles I and Cromwell tried to curb the smoking of tobacco, but without success. Tobacco was too profitable and the ships used in its transport were valuable schools for the sailors which the Royal Navy needed in time of war.

 

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