3. The Persecution of Smokers – Anti-smoking in History

I will be devoting one chapter of the book to some history of anti-smoking.

Most people today would believe that the persecution of smokers is a modern phenomenon. This is true in the sense that smoking reached a high during and after World War II and the increase in anti-smoking laws and bylaws has really multiplied in the last two decades. Most people living today would have seen these two trends and assumed that it is a modern phenomenon.

It also makes sense to believe that much of the anti-smoking activities are driven by the ability of science to determine the health consequences of smoking, and secondary smoking.

The fact is that smokers have been outlawed long before any scientific evidence about the health effects of smoking.


Columbus ‘discovered’ tobacco, but did not bring tobacco to Europe. This honour fell to Roderico de Jerez who was a crew member of Columbus.  The Catholic Church did not take kindly to this weed that was used by the godless red Indians. Roderico de Jerez was interrogated by the Spanish Inquisition and imprisoned for 7 years for being an unrepentant smoker.


The weed was brought to England by Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake who recommended it to Sir Walter Raleigh.

King James I of England (formerly King James VI of Scotland) was the first real English anti-smoking Nazi. Some speculate that this was partly due to his loathing of Sir Walter Raleigh – whom he arrested and subsequently beheaded. (Author’s note: This is unlikely in my opinion. More often people dislike someone because he smokes, rather than hating smoking because he dislikes a person.)

Throughout his youth, James I was praised for his chastity, since he showed little interest in women; preferring male company. He was married though, because it is expected of a king to produce an heir.

James I wrote the first ever anti-smoking treatise A Counter-blaste to Tobacco. In this he described that the lungs of smokers are infected with a kind of soot, shown in autopsies and that smokers infected others with this soot by soiling and infecting the air around them.

James I did not ban smoking – although this would have been inside his powers. The problem he faced was that England had started to cultivate tobacco and it was a major part of England exports. He did increase the tax on tobacco by 4,000% in 1604 and placed a limit on imported tobacco in an attempt to increase the market price.

He presumably then was also the first to see that such actions can have an unintended consequence: smuggling. There was such an increase in smuggling that the treasury actually received less income as a result of the increased tax which forced James I to decrease the taxation. In 1624 he made the tobacco industry a royal monopoly.

However, he was mild in his reaction to smoking compared to some others of the time.


After some fires were blamed on smoking the czar banned the sale and consumption of tobacco completely in 1634. First offenders were flogged and had their nostrils slit. Those caught a second time were executed.


The emperor Chongzhen banned smoking and ordered importers to be beheaded in 1644. Snowdon points out that the unintended consequence os the smoking ban in China was an upsurge in the smoking of opium.


Tobacco was banned early in the 17th century and the penalty was death.


Emperor Jahangir believed that smoking had a bad effect on the health and mind so he banned smoking. Offenders had their lips slit.


Shah Abbas punished both smokers and tobacco merchants with death. His son executed smokers by having molten lead poured down their throats.


Murad IV had smokers executed. On one occasion he had twenty army officers tortured to death. The ban on smoking was lifted in 1647.


Chambre de Tabac was established and smokers were fined, pilloried or imprisoned.


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