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Follow The Money Trail – Why is Cannabis Still Illegal? By Darin B.
One of the main challenges to the legalization of cannabis is that cannabis was placed in Schedule 1 of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, which is at the federal level and is tied to a U.N. treaty that is basically mobile in nature. Being on the federal level puts cannabis in the same category as heroine, LSD, ecstacy and other substances deemed potentially addictive and who have no medical use.
The fight to get the laws changed began nearly two decades ago in California with legalization of medical cannabis and that spread to other states. Prop 19 failed by a slim margin, but the result of that public education spurred the movement and this past year, voters in Washington State and Colorado passed recreation usage on the state level. Those states are now waiting breathlessly to see what actions the federal government may take.
Uncle Sam still holds his ground that cannabis usage is a federal crime. At least one respected law enforcement official says he knows the reason why.
“We always seem to need an enemy; a boogeyman so that people in government can spend money.”
That is the sentiment of Retired LAPD Deputy Chief Stephen Downing, a twenty-year veteran of the force; including duty as Commander of the Bureau of Special Investigations with the Administrative Narcotics Division within his scope of authority.
After witnessing the futility of our current misguided drug laws, Downing concluded that the tactics for fighting the war on drugs just aren’t working – in reality, there are instances where they are doing more harm than good.
“I believe the entire controlled substances schedule is unconstitutional,” Downing says, “however in the case of cannabis, the Supreme Court ruled that under the commerce clause, it was constitutional.”
The Supreme Court case of Von vs. the United States argues that Congress can’t make laws in relation to international treaties, and that those laws are in conflict with the Constitution. Clearly the Constitution limits the power of the federal government, and makes all other legislation residual to the states. In the case of most illicit drugs, the feds have taken the position that their laws are supreme.
With Colorado and Washington passing legislation to regulate, control and tax cannabis, the federal government has yet to decide whether they are going to crack the whip or not. It’s such a hot issue now that there is movement in Congress to strike cannabis from Schedule 1 and provide legislation that says leave the states alone.
“If you look at the legislative process in Colorado and Washington, they are following somewhat of an alcohol model where they will regulate the agriculture, the processing and labeling, retailing and age restrictions. Therefore, it’s unlikely the federal government is going to get in the way,” states Downing.
Still opposition to legalization remains strong, and all you have to do to find the source is to follow the money trail.
Cannabis is about half the total income made from the war on drugs. Cartels and gangs may be making the black market money, but government agencies, law enforcement and the prison systems are scoring giant sums from asset seizures and convictions. Jail time has become big business.
Since 1980, federal prisons have ballooned some 790%. In 1994, it was reported that the war on drugs resulted in the incarceration of one million Americans each year. Of related drug arrests, about 225, 000 are for possession of cannabis, the fourth most common cause of arrest in the U.S. In 2004, approximately 12.7% of state prisoners and 12.4% of Federal prisoners were serving time for a cannabis-related offense.
Two of the largest private prison providers, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), operate 126 prisons in the U.S. – in 2010, they hauled in over 2.9 billion in revenue.
CCA’s stake in the war on drugs was never more apparent than in their 2010 annual report where they stated: “Any changes (in laws)with respect to drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.” If CCA has a voice in legal status changes where do you think they’ll put their lobbying money?
Federal, state and local law enforcement has monetary incentives from cannabis remaining illegal as well. The more arrests, the more money gleaned from the federal government. When authorities make arrests for cannabis and other illegal drugs, they put their departments in position for bigger grants, and filling coffers from sales of property from asset seizure. “Policing for profit” as Downing calls it. It’s all a numbers game,” he says. In 2012, the average daily take by federal agencies was nearly $13 million – for a total of more than $4.7 billion.
“The impact of that is to divert police resources to the drug war at the extent of public safety,” Downing states. “Rather than chasing down cannabis users, they should be in neighborhoods looking for burglars, rapists, and robbers.” Of course there isn’t as much money in finding ordinary violent criminals as there is in drug funding.
“The best thing that could happen to law enforcement would be to take drug policy out of the criminal justice system,” he adds.
The laws should protect us from people stealing our property and from doing us harm. The laws should NOT be directed at what we put in our own bodies and the frequency by which we do that.
WHY SMOKE? No one really knows why, though theories are as abundant as the number of brands of cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobaccos on the market. It may be safely said, however, that the majority of smokers smoke because they enjoy it.
A few may complain of their inability to discontinue the habit, but these smokers are, for the most part, veteran cigarette smokers distressed by the hotly debated question, “Does smoking cause cancer?” – a question that will be discussed in depth and detail in the next chapter.
People smoke because they like to. Motivational studies, reports on the personality factors that characterize the smoker, essays on the psychosocial, behavioral, and other aspects of smoking have engendered controversies as confusing as those about sex.
Public Health Service Publication No. 1103, the now famous Surgeon General’s report, Smoking and Health, contends that while many investigators have attempted to define the smoker’s personality, such a definition “…has not emerged from the results so far published in literature.” Although this part of the 387-page report deals almost exclusively with cigarette smoking, the conclusions should provide food for thought for the man held to be the most philosophical of smokers—the pipe smoker.
One positive conclusion offered by the Surgeon General’s report is that stress seems to be related to smoking, as it is to a score of other habits. The report claims that “there is additional evidence that the experience of stressful situations contributes to the beginning of the habit, to its continuation and to the (amount) consumed.”
Following a cautious discussion of the possible relation between stress and tension on the one hand, and smoking behavior on the other, the report poses the troublesome questions: “Is smoking merely an expression of tension, or does it serve as a reducer of psychic tension?” and “…would tension actually be less while smoking…than while not doing so?”
Of more direct interest to the pipe smoker are some of the studies described by the report. Almost without exception, they tend to paint a flattering picture of the pipester. One study found that pipe smokers have fewer psychosomatic disorders than “heavy, medium and ex-smokers of cigarettes.” The Surgeon General’s report, it should be pointed out, does not consider the differences “statistically significant.”
Another report suggests that “inhaling may be more prevalent among the more neurotic and emotionally disturbed,” a comment likely to invite a complacent smile from the non-inhaling pipe smoker. In still another study, the general picture of the cigarette smoker is one of a person who tends to “live faster and more intensely” than the man committed to a pipe. On television this may create a romantic image, but in real life it becomes perhaps a more neurotic one, with which the pipe smoker is content not to be identified. It may be argued that modern scientific evidence tends to confirm the impression that the pipe smoker is the less hurried, less worried, and more fully mature man.
In support of this argument is the theory of a world-famous manufacturer of pipes, who argues:
The pleasure of pipe smoking comes from the taste and aroma of the tobacco and the relaxing overtones of pleasure that create an atmosphere of enjoyment. This has nothing to do with the inhaling of tobacco into the lungs.
The cigarette smoker’s satisfaction comes from a temporary denial of oxygen while the smoke is inhaled into the lungs and a feeling of buoyancy which occurs with the return of oxygen after the inhalation. A pipe (which should not be inhaled) will never provide the same kind of stimulation as cigarette inhaling. The prospective pipe smoker must agree to forego this stimulation and replace it with a milder and more solid form of satisfaction.
Pharmacological research agrees with this theory. The Surgeon General’s report quotes one researcher as stating, “The decisive factor in the effects of the tobacco, desired or undesired, is nicotine.” The report observes that nicotine, named after Frenchman Jean Nicot, is present in tobacco in significant amounts and affects many organs and structures, including the nervous system, producing in the individual “cellular stimulation followed by depression which is noted in isolated tissue and organ systems.”
The report deals extensively with the pharmacological response of the organism to nicotine, describing its various effects on the nervous system, as well as its cardiovascular and gastrointestinal effects. Surprisingly, although the effects of nicotine have a profound influence upon the individual system, nicotine absorption does not, according to the report, represent a significant health problem. One reason advanced for this idea is that the amount of nicotine present in tobacco is very low. Also, nicotine is very rapidly metabolized into nontoxic substances by man and certain other animals. In short, it may be said of nicotine that it makes cigarette smoking pleasurable—indeed, habit-forming—and that while nicotine serves no useful purpose, it does not deserve to be labeled a public enemy. Nicotine appears to affect only the smoker who inhales.
One curious aspect of nicotine is that it may act either as a stimulant or as a tranquilizer, roles that play a much less important part in cigar and pipe smoking than in cigarette smoking. If nicotine acts, at times, as a sedative or tranquilizer, why then do some individuals find the act of smoking stimulating? One theory contends that the so-called stimulation is produced by the bronchial and pulmonary irritations caused by inhaling. Whatever the final results of pharmacological and psychological effects of nicotine on human beings, one fact emerges clearly and indisputably: pipe smokers (and cigar smokers) do not necessarily smoke for the same reasons that motivate—consciously or unconsciously—the cigarette smoker.
Why, then, if it neither stimulates nor tranquilizes as strongly as a cigarette, does one smoke a pipe? The simple, nonpharmacological answer is that it is a pleasurable experience. The prime appeal of the pipe comes from the taste and aroma of the tobacco –sensory gratification. There is also an added sensory experience, the tactile one of holding the pipe in the hand and in the mouth. But a greater pleasure of pipe smoking is a generalized, but measurable, atmosphere of enjoyment.
Beyond the pleasure it affords the senses, a pipe appeals esthetically, philosophically, and therapeutically. Designed for a highly specialized function, a pipe needs only a bowl and a stem to fulfill its purpose. These two components may take any imaginable shape and size, as long as the pipe will function. Pipes may be long, short, straight, curved, slender, or fat. They may boast the haughty beauty of the church warden, with its long, clean lines, or arrest the eye with elaborate carvings, as do many briars or meerschaums. Indeed, Napoleon presented a friend with a meerschaum shaped like a mortar being wheeled into action. Ornamented with diamonds, its original value was 30,000 francs. Whether fashioning a pipe from delicate porcelain or from coarsely textured corncob, the pipe maker has, through the centuries, added a dimension of beauty to everyday living.
As for the pipe’s appeal to the reflective man, literature is rich with evidence. Each century has prompted a new generation of poet-philosophers to sing the praises of their pipes in paeans that, while sincere, range in quality from pedestrian to Parnassian. The flowering of tobacco-oriented leaves of poetry in the 19th century in particular was truly heroic. Byron, Burns, Scott, Lamb, Tennyson, Thackeray, and Lowell, to name but a few, ranted and rhapsodized. Every smoker knows Lord Bulwer-Lytton’s glowing tribute to the pipe in his Night and Morning, which appeared in 1841. It is terser and more to the point than most panegyrics: “A pipe! Is a great soother, a pleasant comforter.” Blue devils fly before its honest breath. It ripens the brain, it opens the heart; and the man who smokes thinks like and acts like a Samaritan.” And anecdotists chime in from the wings of that colorful stage. One story celebrating the philosophical significance attributed to the pipe is recounted by W. G. Hutchinson in his book Lyra Nicotiana, published in London in 1898.
Hutchinson wrote, “Think of that eloquently silent evening at Craigenputtock in 1833 when Carlyle and Emerson, on either side of the fireplace, puffed soberly with never a spoken word till midnight and then parted shaking hands with mutual congratulation on the profitable and pleasant evening they had spent.”
Apocryphal though this tale may be, the pipe has always been associated with the man of a philosophical turn of mind. Nor has the 20th century altered this image; for example, a famous photograph of Einstein shows him posing in profile with his favorite pipe. That pipe smoking is now enjoying a clearly discernible renaissance may be largely due to its appeal to the “thinking man,” to borrow a phrase exploited by a cigarette manufacturer.
It is also possible that smokers are turning to pipes in reaction against the nature of the age in which we live. Although leisure time becomes increasingly abundant, man’s use of it, paradoxically, becomes less leisurely. Vacationers jet from place to place; weekend wanderers seek high-speed expressways to quicken their journeys; “instant” foods beckon from the billboards that affront the landscape. In this age of rocketry and gimmickry, the pipe alone has stubbornly resisted technological innovation, requiring, as it always has, hand-stoked fuel and manual ignition.
The pipe, in fact, is at odds with many of the touchstones of Madison Avenue culture. As there is nothing “instant” about it, so there is nothing “disposable.” The useful characteristic of disposability has promoted the sale of diapers, dinner napkins, minnow buckets, and even, in a way, automobiles, but it is fundamentally incompatible with the pipe, which is cherished for its durability. A new pipe may outlast all of a man’s earthly possessions.
The therapeutic aspects of pipe smoking are powerful—but difficult to define. They assume, in aggregate, the proportions of a mystique. Ritual secrecy, superstition, myth, legend, and practices as elaborate and esoteric as voodoo ceremony sometimes attend the use and maintenance of a pipe. In a world obsessed with automation, pipe care may prove to be the last stronghold for the man in search of do-it-yourself therapy. As fishing paraphernalia exercises an almost hypnotic effect upon the angler, so, too, does pipe equipment fascinate the pipe smoker—reamer, sweetener, cleaner, pouch, humidor, rack, tamper, spoon and windcap, curer and cure-all. It may be that one day a formula will be propounded that equates the need to putter with the need to escape the push-button monotony of modern-day life. This is an overstatement, admittedly, but in the care and maintenance of a pipe there is the reward of performing tasks that require manual skill, judgement, deliberation, and experience—acts of tender, loving care that prompted one author to write, “There is something in a pipe that can make a man stable in mind.”
Nevertheless—in the face of the accusing arguments marshaled by modern medicine—why smoke?
The pipe smoker can cite the sensory, esthetic, and reflection-inducing virtues of a fine blend in a favorite bowl. And if these fail to convince, no one can dispute his final, defiant proclamation, “I smoke because I enjoy it.”
The Surgeon General’s Report --
"For thy sake, tobacco, I would do anything but die!"
This GRIM JEST, written by Charles Lamb more than a century ago, might well urge the modern smoker to study the means by which he can remove as much risk as possible from the smoking habit. For to the man or woman willing to do anything in order to enjoy tobacco save die, the Surgeon General’s report on Smoking and Health indicates a clear course of action: smoke a pipe!
Here in this report are the hard (hard for the cigarette smoker to accept) facts about smoking, obtained from the prolonged study and evaluation of many lines of converging research conducted by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
The most significant and shocking statement in the report appears on page 33, and is the first statement in the book to appear in bold face type: “Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action.”
The report stresses that the death rate for smokers of cigarettes only, who were smoking at the time of the particular study covered by the Surgeon General’s report, “…is about 70 percent higher than that for nonsmokers. The death rates increase with the amount smoked. For groups of men smoking less than 10, 10-19, 10-39, and 40 cigarettes and over per day, respectively, the death rates are about 40 percent, 70 percent, 90 percent and 120 percent higher than for nonsmokers.”
For men smoking five or more cigars daily, death rates were slightly higher (9 percent to 27 percent) than for nonsmokers in the four studies dealing with this information. There is some indication that this higher death rate occurs primarily in men who stated that they inhaled the cigar smoke to some degree.
Death rates for current pipe smokers were little, if at all, higher than those for nonsmokers, and this even applies to men smoking 10 or more pipefuls per day and men who had smoked pipes for more than 30 years.
Now let us compare the relationship of cigarette smoking, then of pipe smoking, to the deaths from lung cancer and other diseases, notably coronary artery disease, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema (the major cause of death and disability in the United States, as evidenced by the fact that in 1962 some 500,000 people in the U.S. died of arteriosclerotic heart disease, principally coronary heart disease, 41,000 died of lung cancer, and 15,000 died of bronchitis and emphysema).
The Surgeon General’s report states that cigarette smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men and that the magnitude of the effect of cigarette smoking far outweighs all other factors. The data for women, though less extensive, point in the same direction.
The chances of contracting lung cancer increase with the duration of smoking and the number of cigarettes smoked per day, and are diminished by discontinuing smoking. The report states, “The risk of developing cancer of the lung for the combined group of pipe smokers, cigar smokers, and pipe and cigar smokers, is greater than for non-smokers, but much less than for cigarette smokers.”
A study of a group of U.S. veterans shows, of deaths within the group over a given period, the deaths occurring from various types of lung cancer. (See Table 1.)
Table 2, from the Surgeon General’s report, is a more comprehensive table, based on seven studies showing mortality ratios for lung cancer by smoking status, type of smoking, and amount smoked.
Additional studies evaluated by the Surgeon General’s committee indicate that the cigarette smoker is more prone to oral cancer than the pipe smoker. Seven studies revealed that the chances of death from oral cancer are 4.1 times greater for cigarette smokers than for nonsmokers. Yet this rate, for pipe and cigar smokers, 3.3 percent, is a modest one, as compared to such a statistic as that showing heavy cigarette smokers to have a 34.1 percent mortality rate for cancer of the lung. Also, the Surgeon General’s report states, hesitantly, that “the causal relationship of pipe smoking to the development of cancer of the lip appears to be established.”
With regard to cancer of the larynx, the report states that retrospective studies with adequate samples all show cigarette smoking to be the most significant form of smoking associated with the disease, and that the number of cases associated with cigar and pipe smoking was “not yet large enough for judgement.”
Research on esophageal cancer discloses that smokers of more than one pack of cigarettes per day have a mortality rate of 4.9 percent; the pipe smoker’s 3.2 percent.
Four studies of cancer of the urinary bladder found significant associations with cigarette smoking. Only two studies found a link with pipe and/or cigar smoking.
Concerning stomach cancer, both cigarette and pipe smokers can exhale with relief—if they have not yet been frightened to death. None of the studies alluded to by the Surgeon General’s report shows an association between gastric cancer and smoking of any kind.
The finger of suspicion is again pointed at the cigarette in the portion of the report dealing with nonneoplastic respiratory diseases, particularly chronic bronchitis and pulmonary emphysema. The latter severely disables large numbers of men of working age and, as a direct or contributory cause of death, has a considerable effect upon mortality. Though little is known about the exact composition of cigarette smoke in the respiratory tract after it leaves the mouth, studies have revealed that the inhalation of cigarette smoke produces coughing, sputum, and a reduction in ventilatory function; increases the risk of dying from influenza, pneumonia, and pulmonary emphysema; and “is the most direct cause of chronic bronchitis in the United States.”
Because little smoke is inhaled by the pipe smoker, it may be said that pipe smoking plays a smaller role than does cigarette smoking in encouraging those diseases caused, partially or entirely, or aggravated by deposits of smoke constituents in the upper or lower respiratory tracts. In a discussion of the prevalence of respiratory symptoms, the Public Health Service report states, “…all (the studies) tend to show that pipe smokers are likely to be intermediate between non-smokers and cigarette smokers in prevalence of symptoms and signs.”
In the interest of fair reporting, however, it must be noted that the report says there is a reason to believe that pipe smoking , more often than cigarette smoking, may produce certain “non-malignant alterations in the mouth, nose or throat…(which) disappear after the cessation of smoking.”
For many decades smoking has been denounced as a prime cause of heart disease, but the government report on health and smoking shies away from making definite statements on this subject, save to say that male cigarette smokers have a higher death rate from coronary artery disease than nonsmoking males, but that it is not clear that this association has causal significance. But, once again, pipe smoking seems to be much the safer road for the disciple of the herb to tread. Once long-term series of studies of cardiovascular disease in Framingham and in Albany, which featured a painstaking search at regulars intervals for clinical manifestations of the disease, showed a threefold increase in the incidence of myocardial infarction and coronary deaths in men who were heavy cigarette smokers as compared to nonsmokers, pipe smokers, and cigar smokers.
If perusal of this chapter does not produce an ulcer in the cigarette smoker, continued cigarette smoking may succeed where this chapter has failed. Studies on the relationship of smoking to gastric and duodenal ulcers show that a direct association with cigarette smoking exists. The Surgeron General’s report, however, states, “no association with pipe smoking was noted.” In one study, heavy cigarette smokers were found to have a frequency of peptic ulcer twice that of those who had never smoked. Conversely, in a clinical trial it was shown that patients advised to stop smoking cigarettes had an average 78 percent reduction in the size of the ulcer.
The Surgeon General’s report is a statistical chamber of horrors, one that cannot help but unnerve the most stoical of cigarette smokers. Yet the purpose of this chapter is not to indict the cigarette, but rather to cheer the pipe owner who may have been smoking more and enjoying it less since the Great Debate began. That the government report repeatedly separates the “cigarette smoker” from “the pipe and/or cigar smoker and non-smoker” is reason enough for the pipe smoker to rejoice.
In fairness to the cigarette industry, however, it must be stated that its spokesperson, following expensive and extensive research conducted privately, take issue with the comments and conclusions of Public Health Service Publication No. 1103, asserting vigorously that there has yet to be established a conclusive and decisive link between cigarette smoking and the health problems discussed in this chapter.
Who is to be believed in the Great Debate—the committee formed by the Surgeon General’s office or the numerous researchers obtained by the cigarette industry? Time and further study must decide the issues. Meanwhile, back at the tobacconist’s shop, the consumer who wishes to play it safe will surely cast his vote for the pipe. Yet, surprisingly, earlier medical furors over smoking produced few pipe converts.
Since 1900, when the per capita consumption in the United States was less than 50 cigarettes per year, cigarette smoking has grown steadily and dramatically. Annual consumption in 1961, for example, was nearly 4000 cigarettes per person. But during the same period, consumption of pipe tobacco , which had reached a peak of 2-1/2 pounds per person in 1910, slumped to little more than half-a-pound per person in 1962. Cigar smoking showed a similar decline.
The 1955 Current Population Survery showed that 68 percent of the male population and 32.4 percent of the female population of 18 years and over were regular cigarette smokers. Why do statistics continue to champion the cigarette and chagrin the cigar and pipe? Some point to the vastly greater amounts of money spent by the cigarette industry on advertising. Others concur with those areas in the Surgeon General’s report that suggest that cigarettes and cigarettes alone seem to satisfy the psychological and social drives of most Americans—drives that are reinforced by the pharmacological actions of nicotine on the central nervous system.
In conclusion, the Surgeon General’s report, which deals in matters and minutiae too technical to be of interest to the layman, states that the death rate for cigarette smokers only is about 70 percent higher than that for nonsmokers, while death rates for current pipe smokers are little if at all higher than for nonsmokers. On the basis of these statements alone, the case for pipe smoking is a persuasive one—one that should appeal to all who cherish the pipe dream of smoking with a minimum of risk, and one that merits serious consideration on the part of all those smokers who “would do anything but die” for the sake of their tobacco.
The Early History of Smoking – Since the first caveman took pleasure from inhaling the smoke from a fire—quite likely one ignited by lightning—man has been burning something and breathing in its fumes. This “something” has been tobacco for only a comparatively short time: it was introduced to the civilized world less than 500 years ago. Since pipe smoking was known in Europe and the East long before the dawn of written history, it is not surprising that the pipe has been used to burn a bewildering variety of substances, including hemp, narcotics, dried dirt, charcoal, herbs and spices, pepper, and ashes. There is evidence that the Celts smoked spicy herbs in iron pipes, and Indian pipes have been dated as far back as 6,000 years ago.
But the earliest smokers were pipeless. Their pre-occupation with smoke was probably rooted in those religious ceremonies in which primitive man worshipped the sun with offerings of holy fire. It is assumed that priests, who spent much of their lives at the altar, wearied of the acrid fumes of foul-smelling substances and initiated the burning of sweet herbs and fragrant gums. This, in turn, led to the discovery of incense, which played an important role in the religious ceremonies of the ancient Mesopotamians and the oldest Egyptian dynasties that lived on the banks of the Nile. When archaeologists unsealed the tomb of Tutankhamen, they found grayish-brown pellets of resin and evidence that such pellets were burned in exquisite alabaster vases as perfumed offerings to the gods. The burning of myrrh and various kinds of incense, according to the inscriptions found in the pyramids, dates back as far as 3000 B.C.
Both the Old and New Testaments make frequent mention of incense, the best known example being the story of Magi, or Holy Kings, who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the new-born babe named Jesus. Morning and evening in Old Jerusalem was marked by incense burned before the curtain that hid the Holy of Holies.
In the 6th or 7th century the practice of burning incense to the gods spread to Greece. At Delphi, where priests delivered dark prophecies, a Pythian prophetess was employed to give tongue to the oracles. Showmanship dictated that this mistress of ceremonies inhale fumes from burning barley meal and laurel. The smoke she inhaled dilated her eyes and produced a state of trance, wowing the audience.
The Romans, hasty imitators though they were, waited several centuries before importing incense to burn, though there is evidence that they favored incense as an ingredient in the libations they offered to their gods. Among the Greeks and Romans we get the first indication of smoke being used for medicinal purposes. Hippocrates, the Greek physician who lived at the time of the Peloponnesian War, advocated the inhalation of smoke as the treatment of certain diseases in women. The Romans also insisted that an obstinate cough could be cured with smoke. Enter now Pliny, probably the earliest writer to describe anything resembling a pipe. Regarded as the greatest writer of antiquity on natural history, Pliny wrote 73 books during the reigns of Nero and Vespasian, 12 of which concerned plant-derived medicines. His prescription for a chronic cough was the inhalation of coltsfoot through a reed (arundo), a reference that may have been a literary first. It appears that the gods were not very impressed with Pliny’s theories, for he was reduced to ashes in the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, an ignoble end for an early supporter of smoking.
Meanwhile, in the region of the Lower Danube and in countries of the East, narcotic plants were being inhaled with pleasure—perhaps an understatement, for the inhalers generally became stupefied. Herodotus, hoariest and oldest of the Greek historians, once described a “tree which bears the strangest produce.” He said that when the Scythian tribesmen of Asia Minor “meet together in companies, they throw some of it upon the fires ‘round which they are sitting, and presently, by the mere smell of the fumes which it gives out in burning, they grow drunk as the Greeks do with wine. More of the fruit is then thrown on the fire and, their drunkenness increasing, they jump up and begin to dance and sing.” This early account of a hootenanny, circa 450 B.C., may possibly refer to the burning of tobacco, but more likely the Scythians used hemp. Herodotus called the smoke “superior to any Grecian vapour-bath.” He further states that the Babylonians too were enamored of this habit.
The burning of hemp seeds after a meal apparently enjoyed, among the ancients, the status of our after-dinner cigar, cigarette, or pipe, for such later writers Tyrius, Pomponius Mela, and Plutarch speak of this vogue. They report that the inhalation induced a hilarity bordering on intoxication, followed by a torpor and deep slumber. Although there have been many reports of the burning of substances for their narcotic effects, such as the use of opium in the ancient Orient, it must be remembered that there is not a single reference in Greek, Roman, or German legendary history to the practice of smoking as it is known today. In the ancient world the use of smoke was invariably connected with ceremonial or medicinal purposes, or it was a means of producing a stupor.
Smoking as a socially approved means of obtaining personal pleasure was probably born in that part of the world where the tobacco plant originally flourished—in the Antilles and coastal districts of Central America and Mexico, regions boasting ideal climate for the cultivation of tobacco. It appears that the Mayas of Central America, an Indian people who believed in sun-worship and the offering of incense, were the first to recognize the pleasure afforded by burning and smoking tobacco, a plant that grew wild and often attained a luxuriant growth.
The Mayas were a highly developed race. Their temples and buildings were as magnificent as those of ancient Greece. Reliefs in their temples show priests smoking tube-like pipes, and it was apparently not long before smoking became a universal habit. Gradually, the smoking of tobacco and other herbs spread through primitive communities in Central America, Mexico, and the Antilles. In A.D. 620, the Mayan civilization crumbled like pipe ash. The Mayas wandered northward, and their practice of smoking spread rapidly to other tribes.
In the Aztec civilization, before the arrival of the Spaniards, despotic Montezuma held sway. During his reign, according to one historian, a young man was elected each year as the incarnation of one of the deities. For 12 months the youth was allowed to indulge his every desire, and he had “the fairest maidens in the land for his companions.” But at the end of the year, “amid dances, flute-playing and the eloquence of orators, his last act, before dying, was to smoke a pipe of tobacco to the glory of the gods and the happiness of mankind.” One wonders if this custom gave rise to the expression “paying the piper.”
As the Aztecs extended their conquests, pipe smoking spread throughout Central America. Through the raids of the blood-thirsty Caribs, and similar conflicts and colonizations, smoking became popular in Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil. Although the “weed” had established itself throughout the whole of North and Central America, it was to remain unknown to the greater part of South America until the arrival of the Spanish explorers, coming from a civilization that knew as little about tobacco as it did about the New World. To Christopher Columbus, the redoubtable Genoa-born adventurer, belongs the credit for providing us with the first accounts of smoking in America, an honor that might be disputed by the ghosts of certain of the Viking explorers, were they able to produce such accounts of their own.
In his journal Columbus wrote, “Monday, October 25th…Being at sea, about midway between Santa Maria and the large island which I named Fernandina, we met a man in a canoe going from Santa Maria to Fernandina; he had with him…some dried leaves which are of high value among them, for a quantity of it was brought to me at San Salvador.”
It appears that Columbus and company did not, on that historic day, know to what use the natives put the leaves. But in November, on an island called Cuba, Columbus sent two of his men, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, into the dense tropical vegetation in search of gold. When they returned two weeks later, their reports included mention of natives carrying in their hands dried leaves which they kindled with coals and held to their mouths to inhale and exhale the smoke. These reports would have been lost to us had not Columbus survived a storm that raged off the native shores before his triumphant return to Spain on March 15th, 1493. That same year Columbus returned to the New World accompanied by Romano Pane, a monk ordered by Pope Alexander VI to convert the Indians to Christianity and commissioned by Columbus to write a book about the customs of the New World.
Brother Pane called the practice of smoking “making Cohobba,” and describes, in a rather vague fashion, the use of tobacco by priests and medicine men. A more detailed account is that of Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, a historian who served with Columbus and then spent 34 years studying the customs and manners of the natives. In his Historia General y Natural de las Indias, Oviedo writes,
Among other evil practices, the Indians have one that is especially harmful, the inhaling of a certain kind of smoke which they call tobacco in order to produce a kind of stupor….The caciques (priests) employed a tube shaped like a Y, inserting the forked extremities in their nostrils and the tube itself in the lighted weed; in this way they would inhale the smoke until they became unconscious and lay sprawling on the earth like men in a drunken slumber. Those who could not procure the right sort of wood took their smoke through a hollow reed (canuela); it is this that the Indians called tobacco, and not the weed nor its effects, as some have supposed. They prize this herb very highly, and plant it in their orchards or on their farms for the purpose mentioned above. Oviedo goes on to say that he “cannot imagine what pleasure they derive from this practice,” one that he labels “a bad and pernicious custom.”
Others were quick to echo Oviedo’s charge that tobacco smoking was a filthy habit. Jacques Cartier, paddling up the St. Lawrence River in 1535, commented on the natives he observed smoking: “They suck themselves so full of smoke that it oozes from their mouths like smoke from a chimney. They say the habit is most wholesome, but we found that tobacco bit our tongues like pepper.”
In 1546 an observer named Benzoni wrote of the Indians, “Smoke goes into mouth, throat and head. They retain it as long as they can, for they find pleasure in it. Some take so much they fall down as though dead and remain stupefied. Others imbibe enough to become giddy and no more.”
But as the Indians found pleasure in it, so did the white men who were learning the uses of the weed. It proved itself as capable of making friends as enemies. Indeed, the war between pro- and anti-tobacconists was to be fought on moral grounds well into the 20th century, when the medical aspects of smoking were to assume pre-eminence.
The writings of Pane and Oviedo, the frequent voyages of Spanish exporers to the New World, and, later, the explorations of the Portuguese swiftly made the European nations tobacco-conscious. In the centuries that followed each generation was to produce its men of letters to uphold the pipe as “a sovereign remedy…for the degeneracy of the times” or inveigh against it as a “fearful disease.”