A brief history of smoking

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
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In the video below, Dr. Dennis Gingrich, an educator at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, provides a brief history of smoking and the changes that have been made as a society to discourage smoking in public spaces.

columbus taking possessionDr. Gingrich explains that tobacco is a plant that was raised in the New World.  It wasn’t until Columbus discovered that the Native Americans were using tobacco for religious and medicinal purposes that people in  Europe began using it.

In the 18th century, tobacco became very popular on both sides of Atlantic, and in the 20th century came the cigarette. Dr. Gingrich explains that the advent of the cigarette as a method of smoking tobacco was a game-changer.


“What made the cigarette so popular is that there’s a physiological change that takes place when nicotine reaches the blood stream. It is absorbed very quickly and the effect is almost immediate.  But that effect also wares off very rapidly and requires another 'charge' or cigarette.  This is what develops a pattern of smoking throught the day,” he says.

In the 40’s and 50’s, people really didn’t know the dangers of smoking. Cigarettes were included in the ration packs of soldiers in WWII. Dr. Gingrich highlights that physicians at the time were even advertising the benefits of smoking in TV commercials and magazine ads.

no-smoking-policyBut, as a society, a lot of positive steps have been made to improve public health since the 50’s. “There was a Surgeon General’s report on the hazards of smoking in ’64.” Dr. Gingrich says, adding, “Then there were some changes in society including cigarette ads being pulled from television and cigarettes being banned in air travel. So we try to discourage smoking in public places wherever possible.”

Worldwide, there are about 6 million deaths due to smoking-related illness each year. “It is a staggering global health problem.” Dr. Gingrich says. “We really need to get the word out so that we can have a healthier community and world."

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