18th April 1896. ‘The Noxious Weed’
King James I (VI) wrote a tract against ‘the noxious weed’ in A Counterblast to Tobacco’. ‘Smoking is ‘hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomless’ (sic): .
Au contraire Today in 1896, James Payn commented in the Illustrated London News that ‘nothing lubricates the wheels of business so much as tobacco’.
He went on: ‘In old-fashioned establishments, of course, it is still forbidden, being supposed to be somehow disreputable. But the custom is growing in the City’.
It was Walter Raleigh’s patronage in the late 16thc which helped to spread the habit of smoking and was to be one more indictment of the King against Raleigh who was to be executed for treason for supporting a rival for the throne.
Tobacco had become the mainstay of the Virginian Colony’s economy developed by John Rolfe who was later rewarded with a monopoly of its trading to Britain and Holland.(1)
So it is surprising that the King didn’t do all he could to benefit from this trade, of ‘drinking smoke’, instead of expressing his personal dislikes.
Smoking in the 18thc was so highly regarded as health promoting, that pupils at Eton were obliged to smoke before breakfast and Tom Rogers, ‘was never whipped so much in his life as he was one morning for not ‘smoaking’, according to the ‘Etonianan Ancient and Modern’.
Then in Fosebrooke’s History of Gloucester (1819) there is reference to the grammar school children ‘carrying pipes in their satchels (with their books), which mothers took care to fill, that it might serve as breakfast’.
‘At the accustomed hour, everyone laid aside his books and lit his pipe, the master smoking with them’.
Whilst bearing in mind the social and health implications there is no doubt that over the centuries tobacco has given much pleasure to millions, and servicemen in two world wars relied heavily on the ‘noxious’weed’ for comfort.
In the latter 20thc smokers were under attack from complainants of passive smoking, without any evidence, and were banned from pubs and public spaces on July 1st 2007.
However those desirous of separating themselves from tobacco can now get their nicotine boost from electronic cigarettes-smoking has become ‘vaping’-supported by the medical profession, it at least gives an alternative ‘displacement activity’ to glancing at smart phones.
(1) Rolfe had married the Indian Pocahontas.