Tuesday, March 27, 2007
The life of the death stick
Someone once made, what I consider a very profound observation; a cigarette is a pipe with a fire at one end and a fool at the other. And while the embers continue to glow and consume the oxygen, the fool at the other end, true to his or her classification (as a fool), continues to nicotinise the air and blood pathways of the human body.
Some people smoke to look cool. I have never figured out why you need to heat yourself up by clogging your body engine to look cool. Then there are some people, who do so, as a stress relieving thing; you puff away the stress , so to speak; or maybe, in the overall murky gloom, you dont really "see" the stress as it puffs away.
Weight control. happens to be an objective of those who like to be statistical in the manner of 36-24-36, and doesnt matter if they end up being another kind of statistic at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital later on......
I have always wondered, how and when people started smoking.
Tobacco appears to have existed in plant form in prehistoric times. Certain medicinal plants associated with those ages, such s Belladona, and "Nicotiana africana" show small amounts of nicotine. However, a study of human remains, and various kinds of pipes used then show no traces of habitual use of tobacco, like say in Africa and the near East; there is some use noticed in, once again, what were then called the Americas.
As far back as 6000 BC, turns out that tobacco was known in the Americas. Which is a fairly confusing statement as its not really clear what constituted the Americas at that point. May be the continents were joined to each other someplace, may be they were drifting, and depending on the direction of the drift, we could be talking of Russia, South America or even Europe. Never mind.
Around one thousand years before Christ, folks started figuring out that chewing and smoking tobacco was fun. They say the Mayan civilization was the leader in this regard then , and slowly the bad habits spread, once again, through the Americas. Not only did people figure out the pleasures of chewing and spitting the tobacco (the original pollutants), , or smoking the tobacco in various ways, but the more innovative types like the Peruvian Aguaruna Aboriginals, used it to give each other Hallucinogenic Enemas.......(and I thought enemas , per se, were bad news. This was probably the first and last time, anyone ever got high on an enema).
Subsequent to Christ, roughly around Anno Domini 430-650, turns out that the Mayans were really getting around. They went as far as the Mississippi valley , and introduced the folks there to the smoking habit. The creators of the Aztec empire then started experimenting around, mixing tobacco with resins of various weird leaves and smoking it in all kinds of pipes and tubes. These guys were really the pioneers, as you might say, of the after-dinner smoke. The fancy types used pipes and stuff and puffed away , looking at each other and the future through heavily lidded eyes, pretending to see varius deities and stuff appearing in the haze. The hoi-polloi simply rolled up tobacco leaves and smoked them, and history probably says that they certainly didnt seee any gods through the pervading gloom. Smoking basically became a vice and a fashion from then on.
Lest you think Columbus discovered only America, it would be interesting for folks to know that he discovered the use of tobacco too. While cruising around, Columbus managed to land at the Bahamas and the native Arawaks, seeing these fair men in their finery, decided to honor them with among other things, leaves. Typically Columbus took all the other goodies and threw the leaves away. Some time later they intercepted a man in a canoe taking a bunch of these leaves someplace else, and figured out that these were a trade item, and of good value. The stuff was taken away from the canoe. This was Columbus's introduction to tobacco , as a smokable entity.
Taking after Columbus, who navigated to the US thinking he was going to India, two of his colleagues Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, landed up in Cuba, thinking they were looking at China. Seems to have been a habit.
Jerez fooled around with the local cigars, got addicted and took the bad habit back to Spain with him. His style was his undoing, while he nonchalantly sat around smoking and puffing smoke rings from his mouth and nose, the neighbours got petrified and complained, and the Spanish Inquisition people simply caught him and threw him in jail for 7 years. However, by he time he was released, the whole of Spain had gone crazy over the habit of smoking.
Legend says that Columbus again sailed around the West Indies (his obsession with finding India needs to be admired, notwithstanding his habit of calling natives of the US as Indians, and naming Islands as the Indies, as a measure of "If you cant find it, just name it ! Voila !". He even named Trinidad and Tobago, the latter in honor, it seems of tobacco.
Around the 1500's tobacco was a sensation in Europe, and in Germany, a Dr. Michael Bernhard Valentini had written up s scholarly book, on what else, numerous different types of clysters, or enemas, out of which the tobacco enema was great for colic, nephritis, hysteria, hernia, and dysentery.
Dr Monardes, from Seville , Spain, wrote a book describing 36 maladies that tobacco could cure.
Not to be left behind, a bunch of English seafarers like Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and his cousins, took it upon themselves to introduce tobacco into England. The first tobacco shipment reached Britain in 1565.
Its amazing how Britain , who gave us the Magna Carta, Parliament, and other wonderful things, also was the forerunner is showing how rulers could do a complete about turn, when considering rules, that were considered to be potentially beneficial to the state's and individual royal "treasuries". In 1604, King James the first, in the great tradition of the Surgeon generals to come , published a treatise called "A counterblast to Tobacco". The tobacco weed was associated with , Satan, and he simply banned tobacco from the pubs of those days. In a sort of full turnaround , that reminds us about certain people in certain high places today , he then allowed himself to be convinced to overturn the ban. Not only that, but he nationalised the tobacco industry, and proceeded to reduce the taxes on it. Rings a bell ?
The 1600's were an exciting time.
Across the world, rulers had much more guts and spirit compared to James the first.
The first Romanov Czar in Russia, Michael Feodorovich, declared tobacco consumption a deadly sin. The normal punishments were as drastic as slitting of the lips, and sometimes, even a potentially fatal and terrible flogging. In Turkey, Persia, and India, the death penalty was the usual punishment.
So many people pointing out that smoking was bad. In 1624, based on the great logic that tobacco use prompts sneezing, which too closely resembles sexual ecstasy, Pope Urban VIII issued a worldwide smoking ban and threatened excommunication for those who smoked in holy places. A century later, snuff-loving Pope Benedict XIII repealed all papal smoking bans, and in 1779, the Vatican opened its own tobacco factory. Smoking , per se, was then extremely popular in Europe and the Americas.
Sultan Murad IV , in 1634, prohibited smoking in the Ottoman Empire; as many as eighteen people a day were executed for breaking the law. The Sultan had a successor called, of all things, Ibrahim the Mad, and he lived up to his name, by lifting the ban in 1647; tobacco became an indulgence of the upper ecehlons of society, and along with coffee, wine, and opium, became, in the words of a historian, "as one of the four cushions on the sofa of pleasure.". Some sofa.
By the middle 1800's , Cuban seegars (as they were then known) were sold by Robert Lewis in St James's Street. In a shining example of how bad habits dont take too long to spread, Russians and Turks learned about cigarettes from the French, who in turn may have learned about smoking from the Spanish. (Paupers in Seville were making a form of cigarette, known as a 'papalette', from the butts of discarded cigars and papers as early as the 17th century. ).
In 1891, the Shah of Iran, offered some unneccessary trading concessions to England. The people got mad. The then reigning Ayatollah, as a sign of , probably , times to come, issued a Fatwa, and delared that Shiites would have nothing to do with tobacco. This sparked the Tobacco Revolution, the Shah versus the clergy. The Shah ended up revoking the deals with England, and the following year everybody forgot everything and happily started smoking again.
Then, tobacco. Today Oil. Tomorrow, what ?
By 1900's smoking became a lifestyle thing. Not having much to enjoy in terms of fashion, otherwise, men in England started wearing "smoking jackets" in an endeavour to look important while having an after dinner smoke along with a bottle of port.
Thankfully, someone got some sense in the early 1900's.
Actually, as early as 1858, the Lancet, had published a paper on the health dangers of smoking. But with all the bucolic lifestyles, no one paid any attention.
In 1895 , North Dakota, banned the sale of cigarettes. Over the next 26 years , 14 other states brought in anti smoking laws. A lady by the name of Lucy Gaston, who was an antismoking crusader, stood for President on 1920. The same year Warren Harding won the Republican nomination in a smoke filled room filled with the election bosses, and by 1927, most of the antismoking legislation was repealed.
Today, despite studies indicating the perils of being a smoker, various cancers being investigated in relation to smoking, we still live in a world where, planes and restaurants have smoking and no-smoking zones. The right to smoke is scrupolously honoured. The right to provide safe , non-trans-fat-containing food to America's children, is debated; and the Olympics, a showpiece of fitness and fineness of body, is has as its official drink, a cola, containing harmful phosphates, and 9 spoons of sugar in one teaspoon.
Nicotine, the main culprit in the cigarettes gets inhaled into our lungs, where most of it sits, while some part of it gets into our brain in like 10 seconds, and gets dispersed throughout the body in 20 seconds. While nictine by itself is fairly bad for you in the sense that it increases your risk of heart disease, cigarettes per se, contain carbon monxide and tar. Tar can play havoc with the lining of your lungs, and carbonmonoxide does its bit in keeping oxugen away , and affecting the artery walls so that all the fat you eat is encouraged to deposit itself there.
So, one way of looking at things is that you are really converting your body plumbing into a sewer sytem, which continues to get clogged with all the undesirable chemicals you keep pouring in. And yet you have folks going ecstatic over the first puff, inviting all the junk in, and spewing out some more junk in the form of smoke (in an artistic fashion); and all the time science tells us that while the lungs (in their semi destroyed state) still manage to partially cleanse the air you exhale, it still contains some of the poisonous chemicals. And so we come to passive smoking. Messing up the lives of those around you, by converting youself into a chimney exuding poisonous fumes.
If you were a factory, you would be fined by the EPA and forced to pay fines, and install pollution control measures. But because you are human, can think, have control over your actions, you have the freedom to be stupid and harmful to those around you.
Anyone with a smoking habit has an increased chance of lung, cervical, and other types of cancer; respiratory diseases such as emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis; and cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, and atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries). The risk of stroke is especially high in women who take birth control pills.
Smoking can damage fertility, making it harder to conceive, and it can interfere with the growth of the fetus during pregnancy. It accounts for an estimated 14% of premature births and 10% of infant deaths. There is some evidence that smoking may cause impotence in some men.
Smokers are likely to exhibit a variety of symptoms that reveal the damage caused by smoking. A nagging morning cough may be one sign of a tobacco habit. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, and frequent occurrences of respiratory illness, such as bronchitis, poor circulation, with cold hands and feet and premature wrinkles.. Smoking also increases fatigue and decreases the smoker's sense of smell and taste.
Sometimes the illnesses that result from smoking come on silently with little warning. For instance, coronary artery disease may exhibit few or no symptoms. At other times, there will be warning signs, such as bloody discharge from a woman's vagina, a sign of cancer of the cervix. Another warning sign is a hacking cough, worse than the usual smoker's cough, that brings up phlegm or blood-a sign of lung can
Countries have passed various legislations to ban smoking in public places. The Surgeon General has decreed that his message be dislayed on all cigarette packs and cartons. The tobacco lobby does its stuff in Washington, and cigarettes continue to be widely advertised as a lifestyle thing.
The question is whose life and what style .
Once the going looked like its getting tough at home, the tobacco companies turned to developing countries. They removed some warnings from the packs, and blithely sold the stuff in Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. And so, today, smokers in Argentina will not see any warning on a box of American cigarettes that smoking causes emphysema or heart disease. Smokers in Kenya will be told even less. American cigarette packs in Kenya do not even warn of the harm to pregnant women, that smoking causes lung cancer, or that quitting might be a good thing to do.
Many countries have now decreed that cigarette packs should carry pictures of people affected with various cancers and sicknesses attributable to smoking and tobacco chewing.
Cigarette packs sold in Canada require that color pictures of blackened lungs, diseased hearts, lip cancers and other tobacco-related diseases be displayed on the cigarette packs.
The Brtish medical Association is all for supporting anything that drives the point home.
Come June 2007, all cigarette packs sold in India will show graphic pictures of a corpse and mouth cancers will be displayed on the packs. Poignant pictures of a toddler with tubes in his nostrils will be part of some packs, designed to fill the smoker with dread regarding the potential fallout of smoking on innocent children. Tobacco products will also display the skull and crossbones picture on the packaging along with messages like "Tobacco causes a slow and painful death".
Today, It is estimated that above 2,500 Indians die every day due to diseases related to the consumption of tobacco products. Hopefully the gruesome display of graphics will serve as a deterrent.
Despite these measures, tobacco companies, are now in negotiations over the percentage of the surface of the cigarette pack that must display the graphics. Grown men squabbling over making money out of something already proven to be a massive body pollutant.
Profits increase and decrease on a continous scale . The health status of a person who has been a loyal consumer of these death sticks, only slides lower on a continous scale.
As if this was no enough, the New York Times on December 1, 2006, reported : "The [tobacco] industry has been aware at least since the 1960s that cigarettes contain significant levels of polonium. Exactly how it gets into tobacco is not entirely understood, but uranium “daughter products” naturally present in soils seem to be selectively absorbed by the tobacco plant, where they decay into radioactive polonium. High-phosphate fertilizers may worsen the problem, since uranium tends to associate with phosphates..." .
And you want to know why cancer cases are increasing all over the world ?
A look at the Wikipedia entry on "smoking" indicates a remark at the top of the page saying that this is a biased article, and someone has taken objection to it !
All educated people, none of them blind, all having exposure to quick information access, and still, inexplicably, this little weed of a plant has these loyal folks who defend it, warts and all .
James the first who ruled Britain in the 1600's had the right idea when he wrote a piece called "A counterblast to tobacco", and he said : "A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.
Then, he nationalised the tobacco industry and reduced taxes.
Now you know what rulers learn from each other, irrespective of which century they exist in.....