History Extra logo
The official website for BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed

When was tobacco first thought to be dangerous?

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

Man smoking a pipe, early 17th century
Published: May 14, 2015 at 2:57 pm
Try 6 issues for only £9.99 when you subscribe to BBC History Magazine or BBC History Revealed

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


In his 1604 treatise, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, King James VI and I 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.

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 taken from BBC History Revealed magazine


Sponsored content