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Tobacco Industry: Production and Harm to Health

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“Tobacco is the only industry that produces products to make huge profits and at the same time damage the health and kill their consumers,” -Margaret Chan. The tobacco industry has been documented as far back as when the Europeans discovered America. Taking on the role of one of the most important industries in U.S. history, but today the industry’s role is up for question. Though tobacco has caused hardships and heartache it has also brought hope and new industries for a growing America. In order to understand the thoughts on tobacco use, a person must understand the history and the differing viewpoints on tobacco.

With the arrival of Europeans to America or the New World, brought the introduction of tobacco to the United States. By the 17th century, tobacco had become one of the most important industries in the United States. “The Jamestown colony in Virginia owed its very survival to tobacco”. In accordance with the growing business of tobacco, the use of slave labor also grew. Since tobacco farming was intense labor, many farmers used laborers. First being European servants, then growing into African slaves.

In 1628, Europe the growing need for tobacco gave the Chesapeake colonies a thriving industry. They sold 370,000 pounds of tobacco annually to England, taking advantage of this and charging large amounts of tax from each state. These taxes sparked hostility from England towards tobacco production and cultivation. The farming of tobacco spread to North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. It then was passed to two other regions the Northeast (Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) and the Midwest (Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Missouri). By the 1700s, the exports of tobacco from the colonies reached 37 million pounds, and with the start of the American Revolution in 1776, the export reached upward of 100 million pounds.

After the end of the American Revolution there was a slight decline in tobacco production, but “U.S. production rebounded, but only slowly due to the Napoleonic Wars (1799 through 1815) and the War of 1812”. After the War of 1812, production grew quickly gaining an export of 434 million pounds, then production dropped again due to the Civil War in 1861 to 1865, but continued its growth in 1900 through 1905 producing 660 million pounds, half of this was consumed in the United States. From 1945 to the 1980s, the production of tobacco reached 2 billion pounds annually.

The main consumers of tobacco, since the beginning of its production, were men, and with the creation of the cigarette and the cigar, the use of tobacco became more prominent. Before the invention of the cigarette tobacco was consumed in the form of snuff, powdered tobacco consumed by the nostrils, or chew. The cigarette created an easier more convenient way to consume tobacco. The boom of cigarettes started during the Civil War. The cigarette also allowed manufacturers to use different types of tobacco, which created cheaper brands. Between 1880 and 1910 there was a decline in chew tobacco due to anti-spitting regulations, which further expanded the growth of the cigarette. Along with this growth, the advertisement of cigarettes grew immensely.

The wars also contributed to cigarette production. In contrast to the past wars, the World Wars increased the exports of tobacco. In the first World War, tobacco production grew by 57%, and in the Second World War, tobacco production grew by 75%. The Wars and the entertainment industry contributed to the growth in consumers of tobacco, by 1955 57% of men and 28% of women smoked. The entertainment industry regarded cigarettes with glamour and style. The rise in women’s smoking was often due to women’s suffrage, “Commentators openly associated cigarettes with women’s emancipation”.

Even though tobacco use was on the rise, there were still some anti-smoking campaigns, and people against it. The first prominent person to denounce tobacco was King James I, he stated that tobacco was, “detrimental to one’s health and character” in the 17th century. After the production of the cigarette anti-smoking campaigns arouse and for the time being were successful, banning sales and consumption of tobacco in 17 states. These laws were short-lived though, due to World War I. Before World War II, cases of lung cancer were still very rare, but it was increasing in men. These cases prompted doctors to research cancer. The results of the studies prompted a health scare that caused a 10% drop in consumption. “The industry responded in two ways: by promoting filtered-tipped cigarettes (42 percent of all cigarettes by 1956 through 1960) and mentholated brands, which they claimed to be less harsh and harmful; and by questioning the validity of the studies, a tactic it would pursue with each unfavorable new scientific finding up through the 1990s, especially through its Council for Tobacco Research and the industry’s lobbying arm, the Tobacco Institute”.

In 1964 the government published a report warning the public of the dangers of smoking, it and many other reports went in detail on, “existing studies on tobacco-related diseases and, beginning in the 1980s, on women and smoking, nicotine addiction, modified cigarettes, cessation, secondhand smoke, youth initiation, and smoking among racial and ethnic minority groups.” Since that first report, the tobacco industry had to work harder to gain consumers. In 1972, there was segregation in public transportation and some public buildings. New research in second-hand smoke in the 1980s and 1990s, prompted anti-smoking organizations to pressure federal, and state governments to ban smoking completely in public places.

Smoking rates had declined drastically and due to this many industries introduced low-tar and nicotine cigarettes, cheaper brands, and different promotions, like coupons. “To cover declining U.S. sales, it exploited a traditional outlet for U.S. cigarettes somewhat neglected since World War II: over-seas markets”. Even though tobacco consumption was decreasing, U.S. cigarette manufacturers were still among the nation’s most profitable companies. Some of the big tobacco companies even resorted into new ventures, like the food and beverage industries.

Though tobacco has been a great industry in the U.S. it is a really hard plant to cultivate. “There are three important features to tobacco culture, the first being soil that is adapted to the special weed, second, climate, and third, experience in handling”. The first feature is soil which is the most important part of the growth of the tobacco plant. The plant can usually grow in any soil that can produce vegetables, but for each certain type of tobacco such as chew, there need to be different types of soil. The next factor is the climate it grows best in tropical or semi-tropical climates and the highest valued and priced tobacco comes from these climates. Much like soil the climate also partakes in making the different varieties of tobacco. As discussed earlier the cultivation of tobacco requires hard labor and a person must understand the common agricultural procedures to produce any kind of plant.

There are opposing sides on the stance of the tobacco industry, the sides entail the ones that support the production of tobacco and those who do not. The first stance that will be discussed is the supporting side of tobacco production. The reason for the support of the production of tobacco is that the industry has brought America a lot of money. It has also given many Americans work. “twentieth-century U.S. companies such as Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco continued to dominate the international cigarette market and stood among the most profitable transnational corporations. U.S. tobacco growing, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and sales contributed $15 billion in wages to some 660,000 American workers”. Tobacco has been making a large profit for the economy, since the very beginning of America. It has also been a catalyst for the growth of the economy in America, producing billions of dollars over the length of its history. Tobacco has also supplied America with luxuries it did not previously have.

Although, the tobacco industry has grown the American economy many people do not agree with the production of tobacco due to its health hazards. Tobacco contains nicotine, which acts on a brain’s pleasure sensors and gives off a sense of great pleasure, this feeling can lead to addiction. Addiction is very hard to get out of, a person who is addicted can go through withdrawals while trying to quit. Symptoms of withdrawal include irritability, craving, nervousness, and headache. thinking and attention problems, trouble sleeping, and increased appetite. Along with addiction tobacco causes other health problems such as larynx(voice box), mouth, throat, esophagus, lung, colon, and other forms of cancer. Tobacco can also cause a higher risk of birth defects including, “stillbirth, infant death, low birth weight, miscarriage, premature delivery, or sudden infant death syndrome”.

Along with the health hazards, tobacco includes, many people are concerned with its growing use among adolescents. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2018 an estimated 4,040,000 or 27.1% of high schoolers used a tobacco product, and an estimated 840,000 or 7.2% of middle schoolers used tobacco products. Many of these teens were using e-cigarettes as their form of tobacco. Each year tobacco is accounted for eight million deaths worldwide. Seven million of those deaths are from direct consumption of tobacco, but 1.2 million deaths are due to second-hand smoke.

Some people are fighting for the Tobacco 21 Law, which restricts the tobacco sales range to 21 instead of 18. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia have all adopted this law. Arkansas, Texas, and Virginia have also adopted this law, but according to the American Lung Association, “provisions in these laws will make the age increase less effective”. Many other small communities are also taking action and trying to prevent the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 21. The reason for this law is to prevent further addiction to tobacco. According to the American Lung Association, “Virtually all (94 percent) of adult smokers had their first cigarette before turning 21, and most (81 percent) before age 18”. They also state that many of the children in high school look for 18 to 19-year-olds to supply them with products. Since many high schoolers do not associate with 21-year-olds the sales of tobacco to the youth would be greatly diminished. This law is also a jab at the tobacco companies since most people feel that they target their marketing toward young adults raising the age of sales would stop that form of marketing.

The argument used to support the production of tobacco is not as valid as it used to be. When tobacco was first being produced many people did not know the health risks that came along with it. Now that people are aware of the risks, a good amount do not do it anymore. There are still cases where some people use tobacco anyway, but by stopping the production all the way it would stop all the deaths due to this subject. The tobacco market is no longer credited with being a leading industry. Since the usage has gone down a great deal, the annual gain is no longer as important to the economy. Today with the federal and many state governments backing up a plan to increase the sale age of tobacco, supporting the idea that tobacco is a detriment to today’s society.

Instead of helping the economy and growing in industry tobacco is now losing customers and hurting society. Tobacco has taken an annual of 8 million lives and 1.2 of those lives being illnesses due to second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke is being near where a person is smoking and inhaling the smoke produced by the cigarette. Tobacco has now become a harmful substance in our society today. Most people and governments support this claim and are aiming toward different types of restrictions on tobacco products. This has been a goal since the 1900s when the first medical journal came out about the harmful effects of tobacco.  

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Tobacco Industry: Production and Harm to Health. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
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