The First Reference to Smoking Tobacco

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Middle Ages
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In an entry in his journal dated 6 November, 1492 Christopher Columbus made the first written reference to smoking tobacco during his exploration of the New World.

…men and women with a half-burnt weed in their hands, being the herbs they are accustomed to smoke

Cambridge University Press edition 2010

The native people rolled the herbs, which they called tabacos, inside dried leaves and lit one end. Inhaling the smoke made them feel sleepy or intoxicated.

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Columbus first came in to contact with tobacco in October when he was presented with a bunch of dried herbs on his arrival. Neither he nor his crew had any idea what to do with them until they observed the natives chewing them and inhaling the smoke. Sailors who decided to try smoking the tobacco soon found it became a habit.

Among the sailors who took up smoking tobacco was Rodrigo de Jerez. But Jerez ran in to trouble when he took his smoking habit back to Spain. People were alarmed and afraid at the vision of a man blowing smoke out of his mouth and nose, believing it to be the work of Satan. Consequently, Jerez was arrested and spent several years in prison.

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