Tobacco: Zeal and History

earning a smoke by testicular deportation, Aboriginal drug delivery, facial hair, and airline reprimands.
By Keith B. Hoffman
ccording to scholars on the subject, many moons ago the Khoikhoi (previously known as the Hottentots) of the southern regions of Africa used to practice a most interesting and macabre right of passage for male puberty. As the nomadic Khoi relied heavily on their hunting skills for survival, some among them believed that a reduction in testicular influence would result in a more agile, and therefore successful, hunter. To this end, on the day when puberty was first recognised, a boy would be handed a burning cigar, and would enjoy his first ever smoke as his mother gently placed one of his testicles in her mouth, and immediately chomped down with one clean, severing bite. After this assumingly distressing introduction to smoking, an elder male would urinate on the boy, followed by a stuffing of his recently evicted scrota with animal fat and healing herbs. That was a smoke truly earned. Perhaps muse over that the next time you feel sorry for yourself about a faulty lighter delaying your first smoke of the day.

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Tobacco has been known to the wider world since the voyage of Columbus, when, upon landing in modern day Cuba, two adventurous members of his crew decided to join the natives in their curious custom of burning a ‘weed-like thing’ and ‘drinking’ the smoke. Europeans had never seen anything being taken into the body in such a manner, and had absolutely no customs related to the act of smoking. The sight may have amazed the crew as much as finally finding land. The natives believed that the weed was from God, and incorporated the use of tobacco into almost all aspects of their culture. Tobacco especially played a key role in ceremonies, and reading its smoke informed a viewer on such topics as: when to harvest crops, whether to wage a fresh war, or take a nap. Completely independently from the natives in North America, another ancient band of peoples, many thousands of miles away, had also discovered the power of nicotine. When James Cook came ashore as the first outsider to

see Australia he found the native Aborigines, in arresting similarity to the natives that Columbus observed, to be wholly dedicated to tobacco. As Cook noted with amazement, Aborigines were a completely nomadic people who displayed almost no penchant for cultivation, material goods, or permanent shelter. The trinkets and gifts that usually triggered valuable trade for such expeditions as Cooks, were completely useless in Australia. The Aborigines showed no interest at all in anything Cook’s men brought out to barter with.

snus: a call to the eu

È A man enjoys a cigar, blissfully unaware of the often bizarre history of the tobacco leaf over the centuries.

Fire curing of tobacco is thought to be a major cause of the weed’s carcinogenic potential. Snus, a moist-version of oral chewing tobacco especially popular in Sweden, is made from steam-cured tobacco, which results in a far safer product. In 1960 Sweden was literally on fire—55 percent of males smoked, now that number is down to 14 percent, in large thanks to Snus. Yet, the EU has banned Snus, and one can only buy it legally in Sweden. Women in Sweden still smoke unreservedly, apparently as Snus is not viewed as a womanly thing to do, and their cancer rates remain extremely high. The cancer rate for men in Sweden has plummeted to the lowest in the Industrial world. In the 2001 the EU was forced to repeal a forced labeling law that declared Snus as a cancer risk, because the evidence of such was simply not there. Given the information above, I would strongly encourage the EU to reevaluate the ban on Snus.

È Today’s cigar fans prefer to smoke, but native Aborigines used to put the rolled leaves behind their ear and let the nicotine leach through their skin.

The single exception to their austere life was the cultivation of one single crop, tobacco. They, just like the natives in North America, also invented various other ways to enjoy the weed. The North Americans are credited with inventing snuff (the crushed, dried, and finely powdered version of the tobacco leaf taken by gently sniffing into the nasal cavity), whilst the Aborigines actually rolled up moistened tobacco with wood ashes and placed the wrap behind their ear as one would a pencil. The nicotine slowly leached through their skin and into their bloodstream. This invention is what nerds in pharmaceutical companies across the globe now call “transdermal drug delivery”. From the early days of tobacco ingestion mentioned above, the weed has taken hold of almost all human societies ever since. A typical introduction to a new place follows a general course of: willful acceptance by a certain class of people; rapid passion; widespread adoption by most of the population; taxation; outrage at its hold on society; religious persecution; draconian governmental regulation; regulation abolishment; taxation; and acceptance once again. Such patterns have been borne out repeatedly throughout history in: England, Germany, Spain, Russia, the Americas, Japan, China, etc. The recurring path tells much about human nature, greed, the genesis of what constitutes ‘fashionable’, and our ultimate

È Captain Cook found the Aborigines to be uninterested in trade. Tobacco was the only thing they cared for.

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These innocuous looking leaves have taken hold of human societies for centuries, hooked on its charms.

failure to quell the siren call of nicotine. Obvious reminders of the weed’s hold on us humans can still be seen in almost any public place in every corner of the world. A curious testament to the power of nicotine addiction can be heard every time you board an airplane. In most places, non-smoking laws, whilst flying, have been in effect for many years. Yet, each, and every, time a plane is about to leave the ground we are verbally reprimanded not to have a smoke. The signs above every single seat, even recently built planes, have the crossed out cigarette logo. Finally, we also need to be reminded that taking apart sensitive airline equipment, like a smoke detector, is frowned upon, both by the airliner, and whatever

governmental authority controls the skies you are about to be in. Where are the warnings about heroine, cocaine, peanut allergies, the dangers associated with lighting your seat on fire, and admonishments to refrain from dismantling equipment necessary for the operation of the airplane’s navigational equipment? You are about to be hurtled hundreds of kilometres per hour through a static-charged atmosphere in a metal tube held together by thousands of rivets and miles of electrical lines crisscrossed over metric tons of petrol—and the majority of the pre-flight lecture centres around tobacco consumption? That, my friends, is a window seat into the power of the most popular weed ever to exist.

A smoky sepArAtion of church, stAte And beArds
The interplay between governmental regulation of tobacco and religious persecution of the weed has historically depended solely on the personal tastes of those in power. Many a ruler passed laws banning the weed, and, typically, when power was transferred to a new ruler the laws would instantly be abolished. For example, Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, was very fond of smoking, a habit he picked up on working in shipyards across Europe prior to coming back home to Russia to assume power. The first moment he was called Czar he repealed Czar Feodorovich’s strict antitobacco laws, which included punishments such as: slitting open of the lips, castration, and death. This action did not please the church so they decreed excommunication on anyone who smoked. History has shown us that, Czars, in general, do not particularly enjoyed being publicly rebuked. Peter declared that his subjects ignore the admonitions of the fully bearded Greek Orthodox church leadership. In an inspired guise, publicly deemed for ‘modernisation’ of his people, Peter declared heavy taxation on all beards and even kept specially designed scissors with which he personally snipped off his subject’s beards.

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No-smoking signs on planes stand as a curious testament to the addictive power of nicotine in tobacco.