The cigarette was the last method of taking tobacco to be developed. Previously it had been smoked in pipes and cigars, inhaled as snuff (in powder form) and chewed. Tobacco itself was brought to Europe and the rest of the world when Columbus discovered America, and it was thought to have marvellous medicinal properties.
No one could be said to have actually invented the cigarette. It began as a kind of cigar. Cigars were made in Spain, by hand, and were very expensive. The story goes that the beggars of the Spanish city Seville used to collect up the cigar butts thrown into the street, shred the tobacco from them and roll it into paper, which they smoked. They called these concoctions cigarillos: ‘poor man’s smokes’.
Whether or not this is true, the idea of smoking tobacco rolled in a piece of paper spread slowly through eighteenth century Europe until it reached France. Here the new smokes were given the name ‘cigarettes’. There were several reasons for their popularity; they were cheaper than cigars, less trouble than a pipe, and more fashionable than snuff. A man would carry his own tobacco and a booklet of paper from which he would form his own cigarettes.
Cigarette smoking finally reached Britain in the 1850 when soldiers fighting in the Crimean War picked up the habit from the Turks and Russians. From there it spread to America, where tobacco had first been discovered, centuries before.
At first, cigarettes were made by hand, but in 1880 an American invented a machine to do the job, increasing the numbers made every year from 500 million to 4,000 million – in America alone! Today, a cigarettes every minute.