Tobacco apparently originated in the Americas, where native peoples did not seem to regard it as a recreational substance. Their uses were spiritual and medical. Even in the twentieth century some native peoples used tobacco to treat conditions ranging from chills to infections and snake bites. When Europeans discovered tobacco in the New World, they removed it from the cultural context in which its primary uses had been medical and spiritual.
Used without those restrictions, hazards became obvious soon enough. Lacking the shared social values that had long limited tobacco’s use in the New World, Europeans attempted to control the substance by law. Property of cultivators and traffickers became subject to forfeiture in Hungary and Russia and even Japan.
In the 1600s smoking was condemned by the pope and by King James of England, and smokers were condemned to death in Turkey, Iran, Russia, and some German states. Legal harshness, however, was unable to substitute for the social values that had limited consumption in lands where tobacco originated.
This documentary reveals how smoking kick-started the British Empire and created a market of addicts.