- Tobacco had its origins in North America. Christopher Columbus in 1492 brought tobacco from the New World to Europe. Early European doctors believed that it was medicinal as did the Native Americans who grew it in North America. In 1548, the Portuguese began to growing tobacco and exporting it to Brazil. It was brought to France in 1556 and to Spain in 1558. Tobacco became a successful commercial crop in Virginia in the early 1600s. It soon became the American colonies' largest export.
- Nicotine has been found in prehistoric plants, and elements of nicotine have been found in ancient African remains. There is no record before 6000 B.C.E., when experts believe the tobacco plant was first grown in the New World. Historians believe that Native Americans were smoking and chewing tobacco in the 1st century B.C.E. as it was growing all over the Americas.
There are some interesting milestones in the time line of tobacco. On October 12, 1492, Columbus was given dried tobacco leaves and threw them away. He mentions tobacco in his diary and describes how much the natives enjoyed it. Later Columbus named Tobago after the native pipe used to smoke tobacco.
In 1600, Sir Walter Raleigh enticed Queen Elizabeth to try smoking. In 1610, Sir Francis Bacon stated that tobacco use "is habit forming." On December 4, 1619, in Virginia, the first American Thanksgiving celebrated a great tobacco crop.
In the 1700s, lung cancer was first described. The Revolutionary War was known as the Tobacco War, as tobacco was used to build credit to pay for the war. The first federal tax on cigarettes was levied in 1862 to pay for the Civil War.
In 1939, Fortune magazine said that 53 percent of adult males smoked in the United States. In 1964, the first Surgeon General's report to link cigarette smoking to lung cancer was issued. In 1995, the FDA declared nicotine to be a drug.
- Tobacco was first produced for pipes, snuff and chewing. Cigars rose in popularity in the early 1800s. It wasn't until after the Civil War that cigarettes were rolled and smoked with the cured yellow "Bright" tobacco from Virginia and North Carolina. The first cigarette-rolling machine was created in the late 1880s and used "White Burley" leaf tobacco.
- The first motion picture ad was for cigarettes in 1895. The first ban on cigarette ads came from the American Medical Association in its publications. While the AMA recognized the danger in 1953, tobacco companies took out ads refuting the fact that cigarettes cause lung cancer. Marlboro responded by creating the Marlboro man in 1954 when this brand represented only 1 percent of the market. The Marlboro Man and the Marlboro Country ads caused sales to rise 10 percent per year after 1984. The UK stopped ads for cigarettes in 1965, and President Nixon signed a bill in 1970 to ban TV and radio ads promoting cigarette use. Advertisers lost $220 million the first year after the ban. The ad campaigns continued with Virginia Slims targeted toward women and Joe Camel to the younger adults. In 1997 Joe Camel ads were stopped, and in 1995, one of models for the Marlboro Man ads died of lung cancer.
- It wasn't until the 1930s that a connection was found between early death and cigarette smoking, because it was hard to provide a scientific link. The early research was hidden from most Americans. In 1960 Reader's Digest came out with an article entitled "Cancer by the Carton," alerting the average American to the dangers associated with smoking. In 1966, health warning labels on packaging began. In 1970, the first "Great American Smokeout" took place encouraging people to quit smoking. Insurance companies offered reduced-rate policies to nonsmokers starting in 1981. Second-hand smoke became an issue, and a progressive sweep of legislation has since banned smoking in most public places and airline flights.