THE USE AND ABUSE OF TOBACCO

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THE USE AND ABUSE OF TOBACCO

by John Lizars, M.D. (Edinburgh: 1856, 1857, 1859, reprinted,Philadelphia: P. Blakiston, Son & Co, 1883)


General Characteristics of Tobacco

It is generally agreed that the use of tobacco in Europe, as a meaning of inebriation, originated in the introduction of the leaves of the plant into Spain from America. There is every reason to suppose that the plant previously existed in Asia, if not from the earliest times, though we have no very reliable authority for its having been used, at least to any great extent, for any of the purposes to which we have devoted it. I am aware that various old authors report, that the ancients of the extreme East were acquainted with the burning of vegetable substances as a means of inhaling narcotic fumes, and, indeed, when we consider their love of incenses, both as a luxury and an element of their religious cult, we need not be surprised at this; but we have no evidence that the smoking of tobacco was known in the Old World before the introduction of the plant from the New. It was in 1492 that Columbus first be held, at Cuba, the custom of smoking cigars; but it was not until some years afterwards that a Spanish monk recognized the plant in a province of St. Domingo, called Tabaca—a much more likely foundation for the name of the herb than that adopted by some, who assert that it originated in tabac, a tube used by the natives for smoking. That there was no particular aptitude in the European taste for the use of this herb, seems to me evident from the very slow progress which ensued even of the knowledge of its qualities. So late as 1560, when Jean Nicot, the French ambassador at the court of Portugal reported of it to his sovereign, scarcely any thing was known of the foreign vegetable, and in place of the men who accompanied Columbus having taken to any imitation of the Cuban-natives when they returned to Europe, it would rather seem that the adoption of 'the pipe is attributable to an Englishman, Raphelengi, who, having accustomed himself to it in Virginia, introduced the practice into England.

Sir Walter Raleigh does not seem to have used the pipe until after the return of Sir Francis Drake in 1586, so that nearly a hundred years expired before even the roots of the habit were fixed in the English people. Nor, probably, would the practice after this have spread so rapidly as it did, if it had not been for the persecution to which it was almost immediately exposed. If it is true, as has been paid, that a few opposing volumes will fix the roots of a heresy, we need scarcely wonder at the triumph of tobacco, against the use of which more than a hundred fulminating volumes issued from the press within a few years.

These observations suggest a reference to the question, how far tobacco was intended for the use of man? The practice of the Cuban savages is seized by one party as a proof of a final cause, insomuch as savages are supposed to follow the first dictates of nature; and then comes the other party, who point to the tardy adoption of nature's gift by a civilized people as a clear proof that the weed was not intended for the uses to which it is applied. I believe that it is utterly vain to discuss questions of this kind. We have no elements for a proper judgment. Perhaps, for aught we know, the American savages were some thousands of years in coming to the habit—at least we have no reason to suppose that it could be a very primitive adoption. Whether, indeed, man's custom, in most cases, is a proof of itself of nature's intention, must always be a puzzle; but as we know that many very bad things are greatly more natural to human beings than we would wish them to be, we have just as good a right to say for those to whom good tendencies are delightful from the beginning, that nature intended they should do their best to eradicate what is hurtful, and reclaim their fellow creatures from the indulgences of vice. The true practical question must in short always be, what is beneficial and what is hurtful, according to the results of our experience.

The botany of our subject presents us with seven or eight different species of the plant, all affecting, more or less, the warm latitudes. Virginia seems, of all regions, the best suited to its culture, and yields in great quaritity the common or Virginian tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum). A more hardy kind (N. rustica,) may be cultivated in such latitudes as that of Scotland. This is the species which has been found in Europe, Asia, and Africa; and were it not for the restriction imposed by statute, we would produce it on rich soils in greater quantities than would be convenient for our treasury, or beneficial to our people. I need hardly say here, that the question of intention, on the part of nature, is not much helped by the habitat of the production used; otherwise we might expect to find the northern races less addicted to the use of this tropical weed than those of the warmer regions. We know that probably the contrary is the truth; but all our efforts to draw any conclusion for or against the adaptation of a race to a production of a climate, are rendered futile by the teachings, not more of our religion, than of naturalists, who insist for a central point of origin for all races, and a constitution suited to all climates. The safest position to hold, is that for which I insist, that a bad habit may be formed in any latitude, and supported by any number of arguments, where the wish still holds its mysterious power over the conclusions of what we call reason.

As regards the composition of tobacco, we have endless experiments in that nearly new science, Organic Chemistry, which seems to try the patience of industry itself. There are some nine or ten different substances which go to the formation of a tobacco leaf, and these seem to change in their proportions according to the condition of the plant. Setting aside starch, various acids and salts, we come to what may be termed the essential element or principle called Nicotina, with the formula C20H14N 2. These proportions of carbon, hydrogen, and azote, really tell to the analyst nothing from which he could predicate any thing certain as to the character of the compound. In this respect, all the formula of organic substances are nearly under the same mystery; a small difference in the proportions producing the greatest difference in the combined results. But we can be under no mistake as to the character of the element which is called Nicotina—a colorless liquid alkaloid, with an acrid, burning taste. It is one of the most intense of all poisons, approaching in its activity the strongest preparation of prussic acid.

The other important element procured from the analysis of tobacco, is an oil called nicotinin, supposed to be "the juice of cursed hebanon" referred to in Hamlet; this is the poet's formula; the chemist's is C11H11N 2; but if the latter did not know from actual experience the deadly power of the substance, he would have a small chance of arriving at it by any analogy between formula. As this oily substance is also a very intense poison, differing essentially from the alkaloid, and indeed it is supposed capable of acting on different vital organs, we have thus in tobacco two poisons—rather a remarkable fact in organic chemistry, where we find, generally, only one very active principle at the base of any particular production in the vegetable kingdom. It is indeed asserted by Landerer, that there is none of this deadly oil in the fresh leaves of tobacco; and Mr. Pereira remarks, that the substance must be developed in the drying of the leaves under the influence of air and water. The discovery; if true; may free the weed from the charge of possessing a double poison; but the consequence is all the same to the foreign consumer; who never sees the leaf in its green state.

It has been said that the smoke of tobacco, as analyzed by Zeise and others, contains nothing of the deadly alkaloid; and tobacco smokers have pleaded for less detrimental effects from the pipe or cigar than from the quid, but I fear their conclusion is not very tenable; for the detrimental oil, as we in fact see from the pipe itself, is largely increased by the continued roasting and burning. We know; too, that the old pipe is a favorite with the epicures; the more oil by which it is blackened the better becomes the instrument; till it attains perfection as a mass of clay soaked with poison; and dried, and soaked and dried a hundred times; so that the entire matter is imbued with the absorption. See Dr. Waller Lewis's recommendation to the gentlemen of the London Post-Office; at page 137. The chewer takes less of the oil; but more of the alkaloid; the smoker less of the alkaloid; but more of the oil; the comparison is simply a balance of evils; which is odious to either set of debauchees; and some get quit of the invidious comparison by taking the drug in both forms—a refuge from scientific doubt compensating for the greater amount of destruction to health and comfort. But if we are to believe Dr. Morries, the nicotianin is not destitute of a portion of the alkaloid; and as we know that the inhaled smoke is largely infected with the oil of an old pipe; the smoker has less to say for his habit than the chewer will concede; and I fairly admit; that it does not appear to me to be at all clear; that the former has any advantage over the latter in other respects; for while the smoker's account must be debited with the topical diseases; chiefly carcinomatous; from which the chewer is to a great extent free; he consumes a far greater portion of the weed than his competing debauchee—a surplus so great; in the confirmed cigar smoker, that we are often called upon for a surprise at the number of these small rolls which constitute his daily supply.

Practical Observations on the Use and Abuse of Tobacco

A writer on tobacco describes Paris, in its relation to smoking, thus:

"In Paris," says he, "it is impossible to walk in the streets without being constantly exposed to receive into the mouth, and consequently to inhale, the fumes of tobacco from so many mouths, clean and unclean, passing before and behind, to the great annoyance, and indeed injury to the health of every one, and most disgusting to those cognizant of its poisonous effects. In the arcades and passages it is particularly offensive and obnoxious, the atmosphere of those close places being always contaminated by the pestilential exhalations. I may add, this must be still more so the case in the smoking-rooms of our clubs. And I may here put a query—May not the fumes of tobacco, exhaled from a smoker laboring under syphilitic sore throat and mouth, be inhaled by a clean, healthy individual, with an abraded or ulcerated lip, and the former contaminate the latter? I have seen syphilitic ulceration of the lip, the chin, the mouth, and the throat, individually and collectively, where no trace whatever could be brought to bear on how the ulcers were caused. How often does syphilitic onychia occur without our being able to discover any contamination?"

A remarkable change occurs to the excessive smoker, when he labors under influenza or fever, as he then not only loses all relish for the cigar or pipe, but even actually loathes them. Does not this important fact satisfactorily show, that the furor tabaci depends on the morbid condition produced on the salivary secretion and organ of taste by the deletenous drug, and at the same time illustrate the pathological law, that two morbid states seldom or ever co-exist in the same individual? The sudden removal of all desire to smoke, affords the best refutation to the delusive representations which the unhappy tobacco victim urges for continuing the injurious habit, on the ground, that its abandonment would be prejudicial to his health, and proves, if he had a will to relinquish the pipe or cigar, he would find a way. The best argument to use in dealing with the obstinate prejudices of such peopIe, is to tell them, that an accidental attack, of a new disease can safely and at once occasion the total withdrawal of tobacco without producing any bad consequences. It is scarcely possible to cure either syphilis or gonorrhea, if the patient continue to indulge in smoking tobacco.

Mania is a fearful result of the excessive use of tobacco—two cases of which I have witnessed since the publication of this treatise. I have also to mention, that a gentleman called on me, and thanked me for the publication of my Observations on Tobacco, and related to me, with deep emotion, what had occurred in his own family from smoking tobacco. Two amiable younger brothers had gone deranged, and committed suicide. There is no hereditary predisposition to mania in the family. At a meeting of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, on May 2d, 1854, a paper was read, entitled, "Additional Remarks on the Statistics and Morbid Anatomy of Mental Diseases," by Dr. Webster, wherein he cites, among the causes, the great use of tobacco, which opinion he supported by reference to the statistics of insanity in Germany.

Loss of memory takes place in an extraordinary degree in the smoker, much more so than in the drunkard, evidently from tobacco acting more on the brain than alcohol. The cure consists in "throwing away tobacco for ever."

Amaurosis is a very common result of smoking tobacco to excess, but I have never seen it produced by snuffing or chewing. It occurs with or without congestion of the brain. It is commonly confined to one eye. It is generally curable, but not always, by "throwing away tobacco for ever"—by inserting a seton in the back of the neck, another seton in the temple or temples, according as one or both eyes are affected. In the course of eight or ten days, the seton in the temple is to be withdrawn, a common fly blister applied, and the blistered surface sprinkled with strychnia. The bowels to be freely opened with calomel and aloes. The diet to be light, as the farinaceous. The patient should be confined in a large, well-ventilated apartment, and an obscure light.

Nervousness is remarkably common from indulging too much in smoking, snuffing, or chewing tobacco. It is to be treated by "throwing away tobacco forever"—by having recourse to the shower-bath in winter, and sea-bathing in summer—by nourishing diet, attention to the bowels, the alterative powder, as prescribed under ulceration of the lips, the tonics, as quassia and gentian, and even quinine; exercise in the open air, and by mixing in quiet, agreeable society, as the nervous system is easily and readily over-excited; and, lastly, by change of air, and ultimately traveling about.

References