What are the different ways in which tobacco is consumed?

Tobacco can be ingested in many forms. Native Americans produced tobacco to be consumed as a beverage but mainly ingested it by smoking it using a pipe. A paste of moistened tobacco applied to the skin was a common remedy for insect bites and stings, and tobacco has been used to control minor bleeding as well as an antiseptic, as it kills many bacteria. Occasionally, it was used medicinally as an enema, but this method was far too dangerous because the high risk of overdose. It was therefore limited to smoking by shamans as a method for achieving visions.

Chewing and snorting are also utilized. Finally, tobacco is absorbed easily through the skin, and people have been known to put snuff between their toes as a method of remaining inconspicuous while using it.

Cigarette smoking gained popularity after the Civil War when cigarette sales surged. By the twentieth century, the growth of cigarette smoking was exponential across all classes of people, both males and females.


Traditionally, indigenous people of North and South America used pipe ceremonies to celebrate their religious and community festivals. Sacred pipes are still commonly used today as they were in the past for traditional Native American ceremonies. Pipe smoking also occurred at the completion of a bargain or contract. Traditionally, people who belonged to the tribes of North and South America did not use tobacco outside of these highly ritualized occasions. Because tobacco was considered a gift from the Gods, misusing it would result in an illness that was considered to be from the wrath of the Gods or Spirits.


Today and during most of the 20th century, cigarette smoking is the most common method of tobacco use.

Today and during most of the twentieth century, cigarette smoking is the most common method of tobacco use. After the Civil War, the shift to cigarette smoking from chewing tobacco, snuff, and pipe smoking, constituted a profound change in the production and consumption of tobacco. The earliest cigarettes were made during the seventeenth century and were wrapped in cornhusks. Following the Civil War, Duke & Company (based in Durham NC) was one of the first companies to mass-produce cigarettes. The tobacco manufacturer also produced other tobacco products. Duke began packaging cigarettes in 1879. Duke is considered the "father" of the modern tobacco industry, which has dominated the American economy from that time until now. As late as the 1920s, it was still unclear which method of tobacco use would be the most popular, but by the late 1930s and 1940s, cigarettes were the most widely manufactured form of tobacco among Americans.


Cigars are not as easily mass-produced as are cigarettes. Manufacturing cigars is more labor intensive, as the tobacco leaves are hand rolled, and therefore cigars are more expensive and not marketed as extensively as other forms of tobacco. Educated urban and well-to-do men enjoyed a pipe or cigar because tobacco smoking was a symbol of power during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Cigars and pipes were typically smoked in men's parlors and drawing rooms. The transition from cigars and pipes to cigarettes occurred during and after World War I and continued through World War II. By the end of WWII, cigarettes were clearly the most popular means of tobacco use by rich and poor alike. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuban cigars were banned from importation to the United States, which also contributed to an increase in the U.S. cigarette market.


In some Native American tribes, tobacco was used by medicine men for its medicinal properties and was frequently chewed. Snuff was popular during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries throughout the United States and Europe. Snuff is a generic term for fine-ground smokeless tobacco. European snuff is generally snorted while American snuff is generally dipped. Dry snuff is sniffed up the nose. Dipped snuff is a moist tobacco paste that is held between the cheek or lip and the gums, allowing the nicotine to be absorbed in that manner. Until the early twentieth century, snuff dipping was popular in rural America, especially in the South. Popular brands of snuff were Copenhagen, Skoal, Timber Wolf, Chisholm, Grizzly, and Kodiak, and many of these brands are still found in tobacco shops today. Some smokeless tobacco, such as Kodiak, contains a higher dose of nicotine than cigarettes. Snuff can damage human organs and lead to cancer of the mouth and other types of cancers as well as heart disease and other illnesses. Badly stained teeth are found in smokeless tobacco users.

Chewing Tobacco

For many years, chewing tobacco was the most common means of using tobacco. Native Americans in both North and South America chewed the leaves of tobacco, which were frequently mixed with lime. The "twist" is the oldest form of chewing tobacco. Three high quality tobacco leaves are braided together and twisted into a rope and then cured. It still can be found in some stores in Appalachia. Chewing tobacco was popular in both the North and South among soldiers and farmers prior to, during, and after the Civil War. Spittoons could be found in many public buildings, both in urban and rural America. Today the spittoon is an antique. Periodontal disease and oral cancers are more commonly found in tobacco chewers.


Bidis are cheap cigarettes made from inferior tobacco products and laced with flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Bidis come from Asia, particularly poverty-stricken India where they are very popular. Bidis can be found in convenience stores and gas stations across the United States and have gained popularity among American teens because of their sweet, aromatic flavors.


Tall water pipes (hookahs) have been used for centuries in the Middle East and in South Asia. They have recently gained popularity among American college students. Hookah tobacco is soaked in molasses and mixed with pulp from various fruits, such as mint, mango, or apples. It is smoked communally, using disposable mouthpieces. There remains a myth among some people that water pipe smoking is safer than smoking cigarettes. Smoking from a hookah may be more dangerous than traditional forms of smoking. The tobacco contains more tar and nicotine than cigarettes and also may contain heavy metals. Additionally, hookah smoke produces more carbon monoxide than cigarette smoke because of the charcoal used to heat the tobacco. The hookah user may inhale as much smoke during a single hookah session as a cigarette smoker does after smoking 100 cigarettes. Another concern is that communal smoking creates a risk for the spread of communicable diseases, including herpes and tuberculosis.

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