Disclaimer: This piece has not been reviewed by a physician and information below may not be accurate. For information on the risks of cigar smoking that has been reviewed by a physician, please see the health hazards associated with cigar smoking.Is tobacco good for you or bad for you? This is an argument that the tobacco industry has had with the medical profession for years. After the Surgeon General came out with the mandatory posting of statements on all tobacco production this might have ended that argument, in favor of the medical profession --- “smoking MAY be hazardous to your health.” Yes, that is a very true statement, but let's just look at the what that statement is targeted at. What tobacco product has been literally ‘beat up’ in the Press (and I might add with good reason)….. cigarettes. But what about cigars? The Press has had a field day lately, but I believe that cigars have been targeted without all the facts. I have done a little research into this and have found some interesting facts, which may surprise you.
Tobacco is considered to be a poisonous plant. I know, this does not look like a positive statement but a lot of plant toxins are being used in medicine. The tobacco plant is a member of the nightshade family called Solanaceae. This family includes food group plants such as the potato, tomato, pepper, and eggplant, and various poisonous and medicinal plants such as nightshade, henbane, and Jimson weed and even garden plants like the petunia. There are more than sixty-four species of tobacco. The tobacco plant grows naturally in various parts of North and South America, Australia, a few South Pacific islands, and one species in Namibia, in southwestern Africa.
Many nightshades produce alkaloids of varying toxicity with narcotic or poisonous effects. Nicotine is the alkaloid in tobacco. In its natural form, nicotine is a colorless volatile liquid and alkaline in reaction. This chemical was first isolated in 1807 by Gaspare Cerioli in Italy and Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin a chemistry professor in Paris. It was called the oil of tobacco. Later in 1822 a well known German chemist extracted the same chemical from tobacco smoke. Hermbstadt named it Nicotianin after Jean Nicot, the consul of the King of France, who first introduced tobacco to Parisians in 1560. Oh, Hermbstadt is best known for his treatise on improved techniques for the distillation of brandy. I wonder if that’s why brandy and cigars go so well together. So, going back to the chemistry of tobacco, what is it that has made this plant so powerfully important for traditional social, religious, ceremonial, and medicinal purposes? It is the nicotine alkaloid. It is that same alkaloid chemical that can, possibly lead to negative effects as well as illnesses and death. Yes, this is a very powerful chemical. But what about just smoking a stogie? Okay, let us look further into our history.
Archaeologists have found a great deal of Prehistoric indirect and direct evidence of the use of tobacco. The presence of pipes at archaeological sites is indirect evidence since, historically, other plants besides tobacco were smoked in pipes. Direct evidence comes from the presence of carbonized tobacco seeds. The oldest records of this type in eastern North America date back to C.E. 100. Evidence of pipes predates this by 1,000 years and ‘Nicotiana rustica’ has been identified at Iowa archaeological sites, the oldest dating to C.E. 550. Nicotiana rustica’ is a very potent form of tobacco called ‘Mapacho’ in South America. The nicotine content is close to 10% while in normal tobacco leaves it ranges between 1% and 3%. This plant is used in preparations of pesticides and has been used in very small doses as a medicine for colon problems among indigenous peoples of South America. Even back in the US ‘Olde’ West, the traveling medicine show picked up this bit of medical trivia and sold tobacco suppositories to cure indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation.
History has records of missionaries, soldiers, travelers, and scholars having written about the use of tobacco by indigenous peoples of the Americas since it was first encountered by Christopher Columbus's expedition of 1492. They learned tobacco's importance was multipurpose: socially, in friendship and war; fertility-promoting in agriculture and courtship; spiritually, to incur trance spirit, consultation, magical curing, and medicine. They also learned it was a powerful plant that, in small doses was able to stimulate as well as depress hunger and thirst, and in large doses to produce visions and trances.