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Tobacco History Timeline

Tobacco is a commonly used drug that a majority of people around the world are familiar with. In the United States and abroad, tobacco has frequently played a part in history. Over time, it has undergone shifts in popularity and social acceptance, being seen as a miracle cure, a symbol of social status and glamour, and ultimately a health concern. Despite these risks, the tobacco industry continues to be a thriving one. To best understand the importance of tobacco and how the perception of it has evolved, it helps to understand its history.

6000 B.C.: Nicotiana tabacum, the plant most commonly used for smoking tobacco, is first cultivated in the Americas.

1 B.C.: People inhabiting the Americas begin to use tobacco in religious or spiritual ways. Methods of use may have included smoking, hallucinogenic enemas, and chewing.

Oct. 12, 1492: The indigenous people of what is now known as the Bahamas offer Christopher Columbus gifts including "dried leaves," which are believed to be the dried leaves of the tobacco plant. Unfamiliar with the smell, Columbus initially discards them.

Oct. 15, 1492: After an encounter with a man in a canoe, Columbus realizes that the dried tobacco is considered valuable among the native people.

November 1492: The first Europeans to witness the act of smoking firsthand are Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, who observe natives smoking in Cuba. The habit was picked up by de Jerez, who became the first known European smoker.

1531: European tobacco cultivation begins in Santo Domingo.

1556: Tobacco is introduced in France for the first time. The individual who actually brought the plant to France is disputed, although Franciscan Friar André Thevet of Angoulême claimed to be the first.

1560: The French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain, sends Nicotiana rustica to France after writing about tobacco's medicinal benefits.

1564: Sir John Hawkins and his crew introduce tobacco to England.

1571: Physician Nicolas Monardes writes about the popularity of tobacco for healing, listing more than 35 maladies that are curable using tobacco.

1612: John Rolfe experiments with seeds from the West Indies to develop a profitable crop in Virginia.

1614: Tobacco from Virginia is sold for the first time to England, officially entering the world market.

1760: Pierre Lorillard opens a snuff and tobacco factory in New York City. The company would later become the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company.

1762: Cigars are introduced to the U.S. public by Gen. Israel Putnam after he served in Cuba.

1776: Tobacco is used as collateral when Americans borrow from France to help finance the American Revolution.

1794: The first federal excise tax on tobacco is passed by the U.S. Congress. This tobacco taxation, which was approximately 60 percent of its usual price, was for snuff only. It was quickly repealed.

1800: Tobacco is grown in Canada for the first time.

1826: Pure nicotine is discovered.

1847: Philip Morris is founded in the UK and becomes the first company to hand-roll Turkish cigarettes.

1849: John Edmund Liggett founds J.E. Liggett and Brother in St. Louis, MO.

1861-65: During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers are given tobacco as a part of their rations.

1862: A federal tax on tobacco is used to help pay for the Civil War.

1875: The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is founded to produce chewing tobacco, which was the most popular form of tobacco during the time.

1881: American James Bonsack invents a cigarette-making machine.

1890: The American Tobacco Company forms as a result of a number of tobacco manufacturers merging together.

1913: R.J. Reynolds first markets Camel brand cigarettes.

1914-18 (World War I): World War I results in an increase in tobacco use and post-war addiction. According to the military at the time, cigarettes were an integral part of soldiers' rations.

1921: Iowa becomes the first state to adopt a state cigarette tax.

1922: In the U.S., manufactured cigarettes became the highest-grossing tobacco product.

1939-45 (World War II): President Franklin Roosevelt declares tobacco an essential crop for the American war effort. GIs receive free cigarettes from major brands, and they are included in their C-rations.

1952: Reader's Digest publishes an article titled "Cancer by the Carton," reporting on the links between smoking and lung cancer. Up to this point, research on the subject had been largely ignored.

1954: The Tobacco Industry Research Council is formed by tobacco companies to combat health concerns.

1965: Congress passes the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, legislation requiring cigarette packages to carry a health warning.

1969: The last state to place an excise tax on cigarettes is North Carolina.

1971: President Richard Nixon signs legislation called the Cigarette Smoking Act, which bans cigarette advertising on radio and television.

1990: The first bans are put into place to prevent public smoking in many U.S. states.

1994: The state of Mississippi sues the tobacco industry in an effort to recoup Medicaid costs spent on illnesses caused by tobacco. Mississippi would be the first of 46 states to do so.

Nov. 23, 1998: The tobacco industry approves the Master Settlement Agreement, which ends the states' lawsuits in exchange for spending a minimum of $206 billion to reimburse the states for tobacco-related health-care costs, restricting marketing of their products, and funding efforts to reduce youth smoking.

1999: All tobacco advertising on billboards is removed under the terms of the Master Settlement Agreement.

2003: In Beijing, China Hon Lik, a pharmacist, creates what would become the first successful electronic cigarette.

2007: The electronic cigarette comes to the United States.

June 2009: The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is signed by President Barack Obama. The law enabled the FDA to regulate the tobacco industry.

2018: Massachusetts becomes one of seven states and more than 400 localities to pass a Tobacco 21 law, which raises the tobacco sale age to 21.