Smoking is the leading cause of Statistics: The History of The Cigarette

January 10th, 2012 § 0 comments

In my dreams I smoke. Last night I dreamt that I was sitting at a large kitchen table; I had a cigarette in one hand, a penknife in the other. I was carving the letter u into the wood. The letter f was already there. I was pissed off. I always smoke when I’m pissed off.

Yesterday I sat on the patio of a beautiful hotel, at a corner table in the shade, a light breeze on my back to keep me cool in the afternoon sun. Opposite me sat a gorgeous couple. He had a blonde beard and wore a white linen shirt.

Peep-toe high heels graced her feet; a black pencil skirt and silk red blouse clung to her body. Her hair was scooped back in a slick ponytail. She looked impeccable. She smoked continuously.

She reminded me of a latter day factory girl from Seville; the legendary cigarreras who are the reason that cigarette smoking is considered so goddamn sexy in women.

They were the inspiration for the feisty Carmen, the Spanish gypsy girl who wore her clothes loose, her morals looser and wouldn’t be caught dead without a smoke hanging from her juicy lips.

Carmen and her kind emerged in the days before industrialization when cigar-making was a delicate process that could only be done by nimble hands. Prior to 1829 no women had worked at a Seville cigar factory. That year astute fabrica-owners decided young single women were the answer to production problems and the cigarrera was born.

They worked sitting on factory floors, thousands of girls crammed together in large sheds baking in the hot Seville sun. They worked naked.

There was no other way to cope with the heat in those stultifying conditions. Hence, their reputations as wanton harlots evolved and the idea that women who smoked were wayward took hold across the western world, in much the same way that tobacco addiction itself took hold, like a rampart fever.

Actually, that’s not true. It was the French who were responsible for the fever in the case of the cigarreras. Seville was the birthplace of the cigar in Europe and with it came the whole package of old world romanticism. Cigar smoking was for the machismo, the poetic, the player and the elite.

The cache cigars earned stemmed from their dual appeal to aristocrats at one end of the social ladder and the bandoleros at the other. The bandoleros were smugglers who, like today’s hash smugglers, hid tobacco up their bums; the more they could carry, the more man they were.

Funny how men can dismiss their homophobic fears when it comes to breaking the law. Needs must. ¡Vamonos. Arriba!

Cigar smoking’s curious blend of macho chic attracted the French literati to 1830s Seville in their droves. One of those writers was Prosper Mérimée, a prominent figure in the French Romantic movement. When he encountered the factory girls of Seville he was so inspired, he penned Carmen. He and his fellow writers returned to Paris totally enthralled by the cigarreras and their cigarettes, and thus, the most famous word the French have given the world was born.

When they wrote about the cigarette, they always referred to it in the feminine and so a link between smoking and sexuality was forged. Smoking had always been the domain of men. The cigarette changed all that.

The romanticism associated with the cigarette is a far cry from the days when the Spanish Inquisition tortured to death anyone indulging in what they considered to be the satanic practice of smoking. Also a far cry from today when cigarettes smokers are brandished weak victims of an evil vice. The language has changed little in four-hundred years.

If it wasn’t for those factory girls, Marlene or Marilyn or Betty or Rihanna wouldn’t be smokers. If it wasn’t for those factory girls, I or my friends or my mother or my granny would not be smokers. Of course there was also a more virulent machine at work, American tobacco companies, hell bent on global domination.

They did everything to ensure we all smoked from creating unforgettable icons to drugging us. Mention Marlboro, you picture a macho man in a cowboy hat. Those tobacco boys did a good job on us. We were easy prey.

In 1967 it was proved conclusively at the University of Michigan that nicotine was the reason people smoked. The addictive quality of nicotine answered a question that had plagued scientists for centuries: why smoke?

But today we know all this and the question, why smoke has psychological implications that smokers, as a rule, largely ignore. We know it’s bad for us. We know it’s killing us slowly, that we’re utterly dependent. We know it reduces fertility and causes heart disease and lung cancer and yet the tobacco industry is robust.

In times of war, cigarettes and tobacco before them, were doled out to the fighting soldiers. Actually World War I is one of the reasons smoking became such a permanent fixture of twentieth century life. Prior to the war, smoking was loosing its sheen, but the soldiers smoked in such huge numbers that by the time they returned to civilian life, they were guaranteed puffers until their phlegm-filled deathbeds.

While they were fighting they smoked to calm their nerves, feel a bit normal, take a moment to steal away from the horrifying reality that surrounded them. That possibly gives a more precise clue as to why so many people continue to smoke today.

Don’t all of us have days when we need to calm our nerves, feel a bit normal, steal away from the reality that surrounds us?

The beautiful woman opposite lights another cigarette. Her man can’t take his eyes of her. He’s entranced. Me too. She doesn’t mind being a statistic, this proud, sexy, smoking woman. This perfect woman with the heart of a bandolero. I smoke when I’m happy too. In my dreams I smoke.



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