When Columbus landed in the New World in 1492, he and his men were astonished to find the native Indians smoking rolled-up tobacco leaves, the forerunners of present-day cigars. In the 16th century, Sir Walter Raleigh set London on its ear by puffing away on an elaborate pipe that he brought back from America. Soon tabacco smoking spread to Europe, and the craze was on. Doctors, noting its soothing effects, prescribed tobacco for all sorts of ailments, including lockjaw. In time, the craze was taken up by America’s new settlers. By the 1800s, cigarettes, which were really tiny cigars wrapped in paper, were a major industry, with billions being sold each year.
Smoking really took off when it became all but synonymous with glamour, maturity, sophistication, and sex appeal. Many movie love scene featured slow drags on cigarettes and lingering closeups as hazy smoke drifted across the lovers’ faces. The movies also perpetuated other smoking cliches. Strong, silent Western heroes “rolled their own”. Successful executives kept big cigars clenched in their teeth. Awed by such role models, generations of filmgoers embraced the notion that smoking proved you were grownup. Smoking ran into rough going, however, when a 1964 government report branded cigarette hazardous to your health. In 1971, the tobacco industry suffered another blow when federal law banned cigarette commercials on television.