History of Cigarettes

Wherever you look outside, there will always be a person that is smoking a cigarette. This smaller and thinner version of the cigar is so popular that more than 1 billion people are smoking it in different countries around the world. While there have been many warnings and safer alternatives implemented on the cigarette, the number of people smoking the said product is still increasing each year.

Cigarettes are not entirely bad for your health, but too much of anything can pose problems or complications in our bodies. As long as you are able to control how many cigarettes you smoke per day, you will be able to prevent your body from developing illnesses or diseases related to smoking. Although cigarettes are quite popular in many countries, there are not a lot of people that actually know where they came from. To know more about the origins and subsequent rise in popularity of the product, here is a brief history of cigarettes.

Origins of the Cigarette

tobacco inside a cigarette

There are no written records to pinpoint where cigarettes came from, but it is believed that they were invented in Central America, particularly Mexico, during the 9th century. This belief stemmed from the fact that there have been many ancient pots and temple engravings created by the Mayans and the Aztecs that depict several human-like figures smoking a smaller version of a cigar.

The early variant of the cigarette is made with tobacco that is wrapped with various leaves from different species of plants. The cigarette would later be imported to North America and South America in the 17th century when the Central Americans used it as one of their primary sources of income. Around the same time, Central America also began to import cigarettes to Spain, and this led to Spain creating their own version of the cigarette wherein the tobacco is wrapped in maize wrappers or the husks of corn. This Spanish version of the cigarette, which is called “papelate,” would later be depicted in famous paintings by Francisco Goya like “La Cometa,” “El juego de la pelota a pala,” and “La Merienda en el Manzanares.”

The “Cigarette” Name

While cigarettes have been popular since the 9th century, they weren’t really called “cigarettes” until the 1830s, when the product was successfully imported to France. So, it is the French that actually coined the term “cigarette,” which means a smaller cigar.

In 1845, the French state tobacco monopoly started to manufacture their own cigarettes, and their imported product would later be sent to England in the late 1840s. From there, the “cigarette” name for the small wrapped tobacco tubes would stick, as the English people would continue calling it by that name. When the tobacco product reached American shores around the same era, the Americans promoted changing “cigarette” to “cigaret” to make it easier to write, spell, and memorize, but the term never caught on as other countries have gotten used to calling the product as “cigarettes.”

Mass Production of Cigarettes

a person refusing to take a cigarette stick

To make the production of cigarettes much faster, there have been many people that have tried to create a cigarette-making machine that would allow them to produce more cigarettes in one hour. The first successful cigarette-making machine that was patented was invented by Juan Nepomuceno Adorno, a Mexican philosopher and mechanic, in 1847. While the invention of the cigarette-making machine did allow manufacturers in Mexico to make more cigarettes, it did not actually boost sales.

It was only in the 1880s, roughly 40 years later, that the cigarette-making machine became successful in both producing more cigarettes and boosting sales. The success is attributed to an improved machine invented by James Albert Bonsack, an American inventor that enabled manufacturers to increase their production of cigarettes from 40,000 hand-rolled products to about 4 million in one day.

Cigarettes in the 20th Century

Due to the successful mass production of cigarettes, almost everybody was able to purchase and get a hold of cigarettes, and this led to the sudden boom of the tobacco product during the 20th century. According to news reports, the per capita annual consumption of cigarettes for Americans was 54 sticks, and that also includes the 0.5% of the population in the country that smokes more than 100 cigarettes a year. It was also concluded that about 33% of women and 50% of men smoked cigarettes during that era. However, by the end of 2000, the percentages fell down to 22% for women and 30% for men.

It was important to note that in the 20th century, cigarettes are being called “coffin nails” because of the illnesses (mainly lung cancer) they cause that can lead to death. The connection or link between nicotine from cigarettes and lung cancer was researched in the 19th century, where German doctors determined that the high number of people suffering from lung cancer were chain smokers. Because of the discovery, Nazi Germany started an anti-tobacco movement to discourage Germans from smoking cigarettes and cigars.

Despite the movement to stop people from smoking tobacco products, cigarettes were still popular among soldiers during World War II, with some countries, including the United States, adding cigarette sticks in the military rations. By 1975, the US government decided to stop putting cigarettes in rations to make soldiers healthier and not develop an addiction to substances. 

Even though the United States has implemented many anti-smoking campaigns, they are still one of the few countries that have not put warning labels in packs of cigarettes. These warning labels were implemented in the 21st century, with the aim to discourage smokers from continuously buying and smoking the product due to the attached graphic photos on the pack, which show people that have developed skin and lung diseases from smoking too much tobacco.

There have been many efforts to prevent most people from smoking cigarettes in today’s era, and although the efforts have been successful due to the decreasing percentage of people smoking, there is still quite a large number of people consuming tobacco in many countries. For now, we are only hoping that the number of cigarette smokers around the world would continue to drop, even though we may not see in our lifetime an era where there aren’t any smokers of tobacco at all.