Schaffer Library of Drug Policy


Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs - Table of Contents
Nineteenth-century America a dope fiend's paradise
Opiates for pain relief - for tranquilization - and for pleasure
What kinds of people used opiates?
Effects of opium - morphine - and heroin on addicts
Some eminent narcotics addicts
Opium Smoking Is Outlawed
The Pure Food and Drugs Act
The Harrison Narcotic Act (1914)
Tightening up the Harrison Act
Why our narcotics laws have failed: (1) Heroin is an addicting drug
Why our narcotics laws have failed: (2) The economics of the black market
The heroin overdose mystery and other occupational hazards of heroin addiction
Supplying heroin legally to addicts
Enter methadone maintenance
How well does methadone maintenance work?
Methadone side effects
Why methadone maintenance works
Methadone maintenance spreads
The future of methadone maintenance
Heroin on the youth drug scene - and in Vietnam
Caffeine - Early History
Caffeine - Recent Findings
The case of Dr. Sigmund Freud
Nicotine as an addicting drug
Cigarettes - and the 1964 report of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee
A program for the future
The barbiturates for sleep and for sedation
Alcohol and barbiturates: two ways of getting drunk
Popularizing the barbiturates as thrill pills
The nonbarbiturate sedatives and the minor tranquilizers
Should alcohol be prohibited?
Why alcohol should not be prohibited
Coca leaves
The amphetamines
Enter the speed freak
How speed was popularized
The Swedish Experience
Should the Amphetamines Be Prohibited?
Back to cocaine again
A slightly hopeful postscript
The historical antecedents of glue-sniffing
How To Launch a Nationwide Drug Menace
Early use of LSD-like drugs
LSD is discovered
LSD and psychotherapy
Hazards of LSD pyschotherapy
Early nontherapeutic use of LSD
How LSD was popularized - 1962-1969
How the hazards of LSD were augmented - 1962-1969
LSD today: The search for a rational perspective
Marijuana in the Old World
Marijuana in the New World
Marijuana and Alcohol Prohibition
Marijuana is outlawed
America Discovers Marijuana
Can marijuana replace alcohol?
The 1969 marijuana shortage and Operation Intercept
The Le Dain Commission Report
Scope of drug use
Prescription - over-the-counter - and black-market drugs
The Haight-Ashbury - its predecessors and its satellites
Why a youth drug scene?
First steps toward a solution: innovative approaches by indigenous institutions
Alternatives to the drug experience
Emergence from the drug scene
Learning from past mistakes: six caveats
Policy issues and recommendations
A Last Word
Permission to quote
Previous Page Next Page
Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine, 1972

Part III 


 Nicotine no longer has medicinal uses. Taken in tobacco––– cigarette, cigar, pipe, chewing, and snuff––– its effects are variable; it can act as a stimulant, depressant, or tranquilizer. Tobacco is one of the most physiologically damaging substances used by man. When smoked in cigarettes it is the chief cause of lung cancer. Tobacco is also a factor in other cancers, in coronary artery disease, in emphysema of the lungs, and in other diseases. Since nicotine is one of the most perniciously addicting drugs in common use, most tobacco users are "hooked" and, in effect, locked to the damaging effects of the tobacco.


Chapter 23. Tobacco 

Columbus and other early explorers who followed him were amazed to meet Indians who carried rolls of dried leaves that they set afire––– and who then "drank the smoke" that emerged from the rolls. Other Indians carried pipes in which they burned the same leaves, and from which they similarly "drank" the smoke.

The Indians knew, of course, the strange power that these leaves had over them. When two sixteenth-century English sea captains persuaded three Indians to accompany them to London, the Indians, "unable to give up their habit of smoking, brought supplies of tobacco with them." 1

Sailors aboard the early exploring vessels also tried this curious, mind affecting smoke, and found that they liked it. Then as today, nicotine produced a unique combination of effects: at moments when stimulation is needed, smokers perceive the smoke as stimulating, and when they feel anxious, they perceive the smoke as tranquilizing. Like the Indians who taught them to smoke, moreover, the early sailors promptly learned another fact about tobacco: after they had smoked for a while, they had to go on smoking several times a day, day after day, or they fell prey to a miserable craving that only tobacco could satisfy. The tobacco did not have to be smoked; the Indians knew (and the sailors learned) that the craving is assuaged when tobacco is chewed, or taken as snuff––– ground to a powder and inhaled. But it had to be  tobacco leaves––– no other substances would relieve the craving. Accordingly, when the sailors returned home they carried abundant supplies of tobacco––– and seeds––– with them. They also carried leaves and seeds when they embarked on subsequent expeditions to other parts of the world. Within a few decades, they had spread the tobacco plant––– and tobacco addiction––– literally around the world.

Magellan's crew smoked tobacco, and left seeds in the Philippines and other ports of call. The Dutch brought tobacco to the Hottentots; the Portuguese brought it to the Polynesians. * Soon, wherever sailors went––– in Asia, Africa, even Australia––– they found tobacco awaiting them. The natives tended the plants, and learned to smoke the leaves themselves. A failure of the tobacco crop became a local disaster. Early sailors, approaching the island of Nias in the Malay Archipelago, were greeted with cries: "Faniso Toca'!" and "Faniso sabe'!"––– that is, "Tobacco, sir, strong tobacco," and "We die, sir, if we have no tobacco !" 3

* Jerome E. Brooks wrote (1952): "All along the sea rotates ... wherever they had trading posts, the Portuguese began the limited planting of tobacco. Before the end of the sixteenth century they had developed these small farms to a point where they could be assured of enough tobacco to meet their personal needs, for gifts, and for barter. By the beginning of the seventeenth century these farms had, in many places, become plantations, often under native control." 2


Settlers in the Americas, like visitors, learned to smoke. Bishop Bartolome de las Casas reported as early as 1527 that the Spanish settlers on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti) smoked cigars like the Indians. "When reproached for such a disgusting habit," be added, "they replied that they found it impossible to give it up." 4

As tobacco smoking spread through England, the demand often exceeded the supply, and prices then soared. London tobacco shops were equipped with balances; the buyer placed silver coins in one pan and might receive in the other pan, ounce for ounce, only as much tobacco as he gave silver. The high price, however, did not curb demand. In 1610 an English observer noted: "Many a young nobleman's estate is altogether spent and scattered to nothing in smoke. This befalls in a shameful and beastly fashion, in that a man's estate runs out through his nose,' and he wastes whole days, even years, in drinking of tobacco; men smoke even in bed." 5

The addicting nature of tobacco was noted at about the same time by Sir Francis Bacon, who wrote: "The use of tobacco is growing greatly and conquers men with a certain secret pleasure, so that those who have once become accustomed thereto can later hardly be restrained therefrom." 6

By 1614, despite the high price of tobacco in London, its use had spread even to the very poor. One observer reported: "There is not so base a groome, that commes into an Alehouse to call for his pot, but he must have his pipe of tobacco, for it is a commoditic that is nowe as vendible in every Taverne, Inne, and Alehouse, as eyther Wine, Ale, or Beare, and for Apothicaries Shops, Grosers Shops, Chaundlers Shops, they are (almost) never without company, that from morning till night are still taking of Tobacco. . . ." 7 The number of tobacco shops in London in 1614 was estimated at 7,000. 8

In the Americas, the addiction of the Indians to tobacco raised problems for the Catholic Church. The Indians insisted on smoking even in church, as they had been accustomed to do in their own places of worship. "As early as 1575," we are told, "a Mexican [Church] Council issued an order forbidding the use of tobacco in the churches throughout the whole of Spanish America. Soon, however, the missionary priests from Europe themselves became so addicted to the habit that it was found necessary to make laws to prevent them from smoking or taking [tobacco] snuff during any part of the Mass or the Divine Office." 9

* Sixteenth-century Englishmen, like many American Indians, customarily exhaled the smoke through the nose. 

By the mid-seventeenth century, tobacco had spread through central Europe, where its addicting nature was clearly visible. In Bohemia in 1662, it was reported, "the common people are so given up to the abuse that they imagine they cannot live without several pipes of tobacco a day––– thus squandering in these necessitous times the pennies they need for their daily bread." 10 And from Nuremberg in 1661: "Many a one becomes so used to the stuff that he cannot be parted from it neither day nor night." 11 At Karlsruhe at about the same time there is mention of "the smoking fellows of Northern Germany who live only to smoke and who cannot live without it. . . ." 12 And from Austria in 1677: "For although tobacco be not necessary for the sustenance of man, yet have matters gone so far that many are of a mind that they would rather lack bread than tobacco." 13

In Africa at the same time, the story was remarkably similar: 

West Coast Africans bad developed such a taste for the kind of tobacco brought them by the Portuguese that they clearly preferred to transact business only with these whites. A good part of the business lay in the capture of inland Negroes for the slave trade. Prices for slaves became fairly standardized; a Negro trader in Guinea, for instance, would be paid six or seven rolls of Brazil tobacco (each weighing seventy-five pounds) for the delivery of another Negro into servitude. The use of tobacco was never more corrupted––– nor did it ever bring a greater price. Hottentots in the Cape Colony were so eager for tobacco, almost any kind, that the commodity was a major item in the sale of the land which established the Colony in 1652. Poor, ignorant natives continued to part with their land and valuable articles for comparatively small quantities of the new sedative to which they had wholly succumbed. For a piece of roll tobacco they willingly sold their splendid steers, the measure of the animal from horns to extended tail being equal to a single length of twisted leaf. 14 

Where tobacco smoking was taboo, as in churches, tobacco snuff was inhaled instead––– but this also proved addicting. The Princess Elizabeth Charlotte of Orleans made this point clearly in a letter to her sister early in the eighteenth century: 

Our King likes [snuff ] no more than I do, but all his children and grandchildren take to it, without caring for displeasing the King. It is better to take no snuff at all than a little; for it is certain that he who takes a little will soon take much, and that is why they call it "the enchanted herb," for those who take it are so taken by it that they cannot go without it; so take care of yourself, dear Louise! 15 

Pope Urban VIII issued a formal bull against tobacco, sealed with the Fisherman's Ring, in 1642, and Pope Innocent X issued another in 1650 16 ––– but clergy as well as laymen continued to smoke. * Bavaria prohibited tobacco in 1652, Saxony in 1653, Zurich in 1667, 18 and so on across Europe––– but the states, like the Church, proved powerless to stem the drug. The Sultan Murad IV decreed the death penalty for smoking tobacco in Constantinople in 1633.

Whenever the Sultan went on his travels or on a military expedition his halting-places were always distinguished by a terrible increase in the number of executions. Even on the battlefield he was fond of surprising men in the act of smoking, when be would punish them by beheading, hanging, quartering, or crushing their hands and feet and leaving them helpless between the lines. . . . Nevertheless, in spite of all the horrors of this persecution and the insane cruelties inflicted by the Sultan, whose blood-lust seemed to increase with age, the passion for smoking still persisted. . . . Even the fear of death was of no avail with the passionate devotees of the habit. 19

* By 1725 even the Pope was forced to capitulate. Louis Lewin wrote (1924): "Benedict XIII, who himself liked to take snuff, annulled all edicts . . . in order to avoid the scandalous spectacle of dignitaries of the church hastening out in order to take a few clandestine whiffs in some corner away from spying eyes." 17 

 The first of the Romanoff czars, Michael Feodorovitch, similarly prohibited smoking, under dire penalties, in 1634. "Offenders are usually sentenced to slitting of the nostrils, the bastinado, or the knout," a visitor to Moscow noted. 20 Yet, in 1698, smokers in Moscow would pay far more for tobacco than English smokers––– "and if they want money, they will struck their cloaths for it, to the very shirt." 21

The case of Japan is for several reasons of special interest. Though Marco Polo had brought rumors about Zipangu (Japan) home with him, no European actually saw that land until about 1542, when a Chinese pirate vessel with several Portuguese seamen on board was driven off course by a storm and forced to take shelter in a Japanese harbor. The shipwrecked Portuguese, of course, had their tobacco with them––– and thus Japan learned about smoking. Other Portuguese followed, bringing more tobacco. "Japanese accounts still exist," Count Corti writes, "describing how the Portuguese merchants and seamen ... taught the inhabitants of Kiushiu to smoke. By 1595 the habit was well established." 22 An edict prohibiting smoking followed in 1603. 

As no notice was taken of this edict, still severer measures were taken in 1607 and 1609, by which the cultivation of tobacco was made a penal offence. Finally, in 1612, jeyasu decreed that the property of any man detected in selling tobacco should be handed over to his accuser, and anyone arresting a man conveying tobacco on a pack-horse might take both horse and tobacco for his own. Yet in spite of all attempts at repression smoking became so general that in 1615 even the officers in attendance on the Shogun––– at that time residing at Yeddo, the modern Tokio––– had acquired the habit. The result was a sterner warning, to the effect that anyone in the army caught smoking was liable to have his property confiscated. In 1616 the penalties were made still more severe: to a sentence of imprisonment a fine was added, in many cases equivalent to an increase of from thirty to fifty days on the original term. But it was all of no avail; the custom spread rapidly in every direction; until, as we read in an Imperial poem of the time, many smokers were to be found even in the Mikado's palace. Finally even the princes who were responsible for the prohibition took to smoking, and the great land-owners and rulers of the Daimios, the military and feudal aristocracy, who were all devotees of the habit, were glad to let the laws fall into abeyance. In 1625 permission was given to cultivate and plant tobacco, except in rice fields and vegetable gardens. By 1639 tobacco bad taken its place in polite Japanese society as an accompaniment to the ceremonial cup of tea offered to a guest. 23 

From those days until today, it is most important to note, no country that has ever learned to use tobacco has given up the practice. * More remarkable still, no other substance has been found through the centuries since 1492 that can take the place of tobacco. Tobacco smokers who learn to smoke opium or marijuana go right on smoking tobacco in addition––– clear evidence, surely, that it is  something in the tobacco rather than the act of smoking which underlies the addiction.

* The one apparent exception is England, where tobacco  smoking went out of style for a time during the eighteenth century. The exception is only apparent, however, for eighteenth-century Englishmen continued to get their regular nicotine dosage by inhaling snuff. Edward H. Pinto wrote (1961): Snuff-taking "does not seem to have made great progress in challenging the supremacy of smoking, even in Court circles, until snuff-taking William and Mary came to the throne in 1689 ... and by the time of Anne (1702), another confirmed snuff taker, it is related that scarcely a man of rank but carried the insidious dust about him.... Queen Charlotte, though only seventeen when she married George 111, was such a confirmed snuff taker that she was known as 'Snuffy Charlotte."' Use by the common people of Britain began in 1702 when the British fleet "captured from the Spanish, near Cadiz, several thousand barrels of choice Spanish snuff, and near Vigo a further cargo of Havana snuff, intended for the Spanish market. This vast quantity ... was sold at the English seaports at a very low price, the proceeds being prize money for the benefit of the sailors and officers. Thus was the general snuff habit born in Britain." 24

Snuff is still taken there and in the United States, where some 25,000,000 pounds are consumed per year. A January 1971 press release of the Smokeless Tobacco Council reports: "The headmistress of a young ladies' seminary in the Midwest was puzzled recently by the fact that so many of her students had given up smoking. On investigation, she found out why: Being unable to smoke except at specified times of the day, and in the one room of the school set aside for it, the girls had discovered a really wonderful and beautifully simple substitute: They'd begun using snuff!" 25

Chapter 23

1. Count Egon Caesar Corti,  A History of Smoking, trans. Paul England (London: George C. Harrap & Co., Ltd., 1931), p. 69.

2. Jerome E. Brooks,  The Mighty Leaf (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1952), pp. 33-34.

3. Louis Lewin,  Phantastica: Narcotic and Stimulating Drugs, Their Use and Abuse (1924), trans. 1931 (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1964, reprint), p. 290.

4. Bartolomé de las Casas,  Historia, cited by Brooks, p. 14;  Histoire des Indes (1520-1559), cited by Corti, pp. 42-43.

5. Edmund Gardiner,  Triall of Tobacco (1610), cited by Corti,  History, p. 89.

6. Francis Bacon,  Historia vitae et mortis (1623), cited by Corti,  History, p. 94.

7. Berthold Laufer,  Introduction of Tobacco into Europe, Anthropology Leaflet 19 (Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1924), p. 16.

8. Ibid.

9. Corti,  History, p. 107.

10. Ibid., p. 116.

11. Johann Lassenius,  Adeligen Tischreden (1661), cited by Corti, History, p. 117.

12. Jakob Balde,  Die truckene Trunkenheit (Nuremberg, 1658), cited by Corti, History, pp. 118-119.

13. Report of the Hofkammer (Exchequer), August 1677, cited by Corti,  History, p. 157.

14. Brooks,  The Mighty Leaf, p. 105.

15.  Briefe der Herzogin Elisabeth Charlotte von Orleans, ed. Hans F. Helmolt (Leipzig: 1924), p. 335, cited by Corti,  History, p. 182.

16. Corti,  History, pp. 129, 130.

17. Louis Lewin,  Phantastica, p. 302.

18. Corti,  History, pp. 113, 114, 123.

19. Ibid., pp. 138-139.

20. Adam Alearius,  Beschreibung der moskowitischen und persienischen Reise (1696), cited by Corti,  History, p. 141.

21. J. Crull,  Ancient and Present State of Muscovy (1698), p. 145, cited by Laufer,  Introduction of Tobacco into Europe, p. 59.

22. Corti,  History, p. 145.

23. Ibid., pp. 146-147.

24. Edward H. Pinto,  Wooden Bygones of Smoking and Snuff Taking (London. Hutchinson of London, 1961), pp. 56-57.

25. Smokeless Tobacco Council, Inc., New York, "Nothing to Sneeze At" (press release), January 1971.

Previous Page Next Page