What believed to be an innocent leaf, that has potentialities to cure many ailments since centuries, has turned out to be a curse on the humanity.  Here is an account of this catastrophic devil’s deadly leaf, tobacco’s journey over the years.

Legends woven around tobacco.

Legends abound about the origins and beliefs of tobacco. According to a North American mythological story, god sent an angel as his representative to prevent deaths due to famine and drought conditions on earth. Wherever the angel laid her right hand on earth, potatoes grew. Wherever, she laid her left hand, maize grew. The angel, satisfied with her work, heaved a sigh of relief and sat at a place to take a breather. After some time, when the angel rose up to go back, tobacco grew where she sat. 

The truth behind this legend is not known, but, it establishes the fact, tobacco was considered as a divine plant in the days of yore in some parts of the globe. 

Tobacco was considered as a divine tool once to attain concentration of mind during religious ceremonies. In the earlier days of tobacco, people had a belief on the medicinal qualities of tobacco. 

Tobacco in history.

When  Christopher Columbus stepped in to Bahamas islands  in 1492,  the local tribes presented some leaves along with other gifts like fruits and wooden spears. Columbus in his writings written, ‘We ate fruits. But unable to understand what to do with the leaves, the tribals presented, we threw them.’

But one member in the crew, Rodrigo Jerez, a Spaniard, while roaming in the islands, discovered what the locals are doing with the leaves. A few of the leaves are rolled in another leaf and after lighting at one end of the roll, they were smoking. They were enjoying the act.  Rodrigo too tried it. Thus, Rodrigo has become the first  European smoker.

How tobacco spread its tentacles. 

Rodrigo, who tasted the tobacco smoke, continued his habit, even after reaching Spain. People in the neighborhood were shocked and terrified seeing Rodrigo letting smoke through the nostrils and mouth. People were under the belief that only ghosts are capable of letting smoke through mouth and nostrils. This act of Rodrigo created an uproar. The matter came into the notice of the king. Consequently, Rodrigo was imprisoned for 7 years.

But, the smoking habit did not stop. It was spread all over Europe in due course. The French ambassador, Jean Nikote during his tour to Portugal, introduced tobacco to France in 1560. And the word Nicotine, the colorless alkaloid component in tobacco owes its name to Jean Nicot.

Tobacco as a commercial commodity.

Though tobacco was mentioned in Buddhist literature, Europeans were the first to use tobacco as a commercial commodity. After the decline of Feudalistic society, the world ran towards capitalism and started exploring the possible new business opportunities all over the world. This resulted in introducing the tobacco to India by Portugal 400 years ago. 

Cigarette was introduced to India by the British.

Tobacco, the golden crop

Entire world gave tobacco a royal status as it proved its worth commercially as the biggest profitable crop. India was no exception.

Smoking, a symbol of sophistication.

Holding a cigar or a cigarette in between the index finger and the middle finger has become a fashion statement. Smoking found a place in the literatures of all the languages. Smoking added an extra dimension to the ‘Heroism’ in movies. And this in turn seeped in to the society in a big way. 

enoughh-fireGradual unraveling of tobacco’s dirty face.

It’s only in the modern times that the world started realizing the ill-effects of tobacco. Medical world, through intensive studies and researches, discovered startling facts about tobacco. The constituents of tobacco namely, Nicotine, carbon monoxide, Tar are the chief causes for the deadly diseases like lungs related and heart related ailments. Its not all. a variety of cancers, bone related ailments and 20 other ailments are linked with tobacco.

Tobacco has influence on non- smokers also. Those who are in the near vicinity of a smoker also will be affected. These passive smokers are likely to be the victims of  ear, nose, throat related ailments. 

Why smoking lures.

Smoking creates a sense of euphoria. Smokers feel very confident. Owing to this reason, many low self esteemed people get easily addicted to smoking. All habits, good or bad will form in early childhood. Owing to bad company or bad family conditions, cigarette smoking habit also starts during childhood. At this stage, a child from an unhappy family, tries to exhibit his defiance by getting in to unhealthy habits. 

Smoking for many is a symbol of manhood. During teenage stage, youth will have an undercurrent of ‘going against the system and set norms.’ To do this, they incline towards bad habits. And smoking is the easily available bad habit. 

Within 10 seconds of inhalation of smoke, brain is activated. Heart beat increases. This results in a feeling of elation. This feeling of elation is linked with the releasing of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters control your moods and behavior. The chemical named dopamine is a constituent of neurotransmitters. Dopamine is the chemical that lifts your mood and makes you feel good.

A few facts about tobacco.

The practice of wrapping tobacco in a paper was started in Brazil.

Tobacco is not meant for consumption in any form. The fact that, it tastes bitter and makes people cough is the proof.

 In the two world wars, soldiers used to get cigarettes along with their other rations. 

In China, Ming dynasty viewed refusal to undergo training in archery as a serious crime. And smoking is viewed as much bigger and serious crime than refusal to undergo training in archery. In certain cases, smokers were beheaded. During 17th century, in Turkey, smokers used to get punishments ranging from imprisonment to death. 

Cues that establish your association with smoking.

An urge to smoke after a meal, morning breakfast or when you have a break in the work.

An urge to smoke when you meet a friend, who is also a smoker. In addition to these possibilities that create an urge to smoking, anxiety too plays a pivotal role in creating an urge in you to smoke. Many times it happens in our daily lives. For example, You have almost  finished a job assigned to you. But a last addition has to be done by your friend, who is expected at 7 pm. The clock is showing 7. 30 pm. The deadline is 8 pm.

In this situation anxiety plays havoc in you. You feel your nerves are going to break. 

On such moments of anxiety, you feel like having a smoke to relieve your jumping nerves. No doubt, the nicotine will appease your taut  nerves.

How to curb the urge.

Addiction is linked to is both a psychological and physical factors.  As it was said earlier, the nicotine is addictive. And it makes smoking a part of your daily routine. Most if the people who want to quit smoking do the mistake of abruptly stopping it.

This sudden and abrupt stoppage will lead to more intensified craving for cigarettes. Most often this makes you  restart the smoking habit in a much bigger scale.

The best way is to stop in small incremental way. While this process is going on, switch to some new habits that are capable of turning your mind away from a cigarette.

When it comes to turning your attention from smoking, nothing can be better than meditation. Meditation not only turns your attention from smoking, it also makes your mind stable and sturdy. This is the quality a smoker needs to keep the habit of smoking at bay.  

Instead of stocking the cigarettes in packets, keep 2 or 3 cigarettes only at your disposal.

Other effective ways to quit smoking

Switch over to an activity that’s close to your heart. you always wanted to draw. One of your close friend is an artist. His works always used to create awe in you. But you never gave a serious thought about it. Now it’s the right time to pursue the art. 

Pursuing a new activity is the surest way of diverting your mind from smoking.

Take initiative to teach the child of your maid servant, which you always wanted to do.

The whole idea is to turn away your thoughts from the deadly habit of smoking. It need not be the only ways suggested above. You can explore and find out your own method and a way to quit smoking.

Image : A pencil drawing by the author.

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