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moking goes back many thousands of years with the first records of it being practiced by the Native Americans in 5000 BC. This vice, as it is seen today, has a valuable significance in many cultures as it was used to purify one’s mind before a religious ceremony. Every part of the world has its own culture and every culture smoked something different. The Native Americans smoked tobacco as that is what was growing in the area. Eastern cultures such as India or Subsaharan Africa used cannabis as that is what grew in their area.

In many different cultures, priests or religious leaders smoked in order to become less lucid, allowing their minds to detach from the Earth and connect with the divine spirits. Smoking wasn’t introduced to Europe until the late 15th century after explorers found out about this vice as well as smokable plants and brought it back to Europe.

The first smoker in Europe

The first man who brought smoking to Europe was Rodrigo de Jerez who was actually part of Christopher Columbus’s exploration crew that focused on America. Upon their arrival on American land in 1492, they were approached by a Native American tribe that seemed peaceful. They exchanged gifts in order to show that they didn’t mean any harm and that they were there just to explore the land. The explorers gave them clothes, food, and other necessities whilst the tribe gave them tobacco.

Christopher Columbus, Landing of Columbus (12 October 1492), (Source: painting by John Vanderlyn)

Columbus and his crew didn’t know what the herbs were for although the Native Americans told them that they were a luxury, therefore they decided to keep them and return them to Europe in order to be analyzed by experts. Some of the crewmen such as Jerez paid attention to what the Native Americans were doing with the tobacco.

As they were heading back to Europe, Jerez decided to take some of the tobacco for himself to try and smoke it as the Native Americans did, to see how it is. From what he understood from the tribesman, the smoking of tobacco had a calming and relaxing effect. The first time he tried it was on board the ship that was going back to Spain.

The devil reincarnated

Once the crew reached port Ayamonte in Sevilla, Spain, Jerez decided to smoke in public. Upon the public seeing a man blow smoke out of his mouth and nose they thought it was the devil reincarnated in a human appearance. As this happened during the time of the Spanish Inquisition (1478–1834) Jerez was taken by the authorities to investigate. Jerez showed the authorities that the smoke was produced thanks to the tobacco plant brought back from America.

Even so, as Spain was run by Catholic monarchs at the time, they knew that letting him free would give a bad image to the Inquisition, therefore he was locked up for 10 years so that people would forget about him, making them think that he had been killed as he was seen as a demonic figure for simply smoking. The monarchy followed by stating that the tobacco plant was something impure.

Nevertheless, at the start of the 16th century as the colonists settled in America, the tobacco trade began, slowly making this unhealthy trend popular around Europe. The plant itself, although seen as a pure herb with healing abilities was not used in medicine until the 20th century. It was also not until the late 19th century that cigarettes were invented. Until then, smoking out of an expensive pipe was the way most people smoked tobacco.

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