When was tobacco first thought to be dangerous?

The story of tobacco in England has been chequered from the outset.

When was tobacco first thought to be dangerous? (public domain)

After it was introduced, it was deemed a medical cure for illnesses – in contrast with the views of several notable people.

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In his 1604 treatise, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, King James I of England and VI of Scotland described it as “harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs” and soon after, the great scientist Francis Bacon noted tobacco as highly addictive.

Samuel Pepys also wrote in 1665 about witnessing a cat being killed by a small dose of distilled tobacco oil. Still, it took another century for Dr John Hill to show that snuff tobacco could cause nose cancer, and yet another 80 years elapsed before doctors began debating the safety of smoking.

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A proper body of scientific data was assembled in the sixties, but the tobacco companies successfully fought it. Intriguingly, we may see the whole pattern begin again with the growth of electronic cigarettes.

This article was first published in the July 2015 issue of History Revealed and answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner.