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News: Christopher Columbus and the ‘Discovery’ of Tobacco

10 Oct 2011

Unless you have the day off work, you might not realize that today is Columbus Day. Still, and particularly if you have the day off , it’s worth revisiting the story of how Columbus and his crew brought tobacco back to Europe and kick-started what would become today’s cigar industry:

Columbus (right) is widely credited with introducing the tobacco plant to Europe, which set in motion a series of events that culminated in the cigar industry we see today. It was during Columbus’ voyages to the new world that Europeans first encountered the tobacco plant.

According to history, it was two of Columbus’ crew members who were most responsible for bringing tobacco to Europe. Both, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, took a liking to tobacco after seeing native Americans smoking the leaf.

After arriving in Cuba in November 1492, which Columbus thought was the Asian coast, Columbus sent Torres and de Jerez inland to explore the country and to contact its ruler. The two men were received in an Indian village where they saw the native custom of drying leaves, inserting them in cane pipes, burning them, and inhaling the smoke.

Upon his return to Spain, Jerez continued smoking and introduced his habit to his home town of Ayamonte. The smoke reportedly frightened some of his neighbors, resulting in the Spanish Inquisition imprisoning him for his use of the “devil’s weed”—making Jerez the first victim of anti-tobacco laws. He spent seven years in prison for his “sin,” only to be released as smoking was becoming an accepted activity in Spain.

And so a member of Columbus’ crew was not only one of the first Europeans to enjoy the simple pleasures of tobacco, he was also the first victim of anti-tobacco persecution. It’s a story worth remembering, particularly on Columbus Day, and preferably with a fine cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia

One Response to “News: Christopher Columbus and the ‘Discovery’ of Tobacco”

  1. Tyler Monday, October 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    Good story! Don't forget about Jean Nicot and his contribution to tobacco.