Then and Now

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The Independent Online
1996: The Government is warned by the National Audit Office that its anti-smoking propaganda is failing and that schoolchildren increasingly see cigarettes as fashionable rather than dangerous.

1604: King James I and VI, dismayed at the popularity of smoking in his kingdoms, takes a personal initiative to stamp it out, publishing a pamphlet by his own hand entitled A Counterblast to Tobacco. He pulls no punches. "There cannot," he writes, "be a more base, and yet hurtful corruption in a country than is the vile use (or rather abuse) of taking tobacco." The very origin of the weed, the king argues, condemns it. "Tobacco was first found out by some of the barbarous Indians to be a preservative or antidote against the Pox, a filthy disease whereunto these barbarous peoples are (as all men know) very much subject. As from them was first brought into Christendom that most detestable disease, so from them likewise was brought this use of tobacco, as a stinking and unsavoury antidote for so corrupted and execrable a malady. Shall we, that have been so long civil and wealthy in peace, famous and invincible in war, shall we, I say without blushing, abase ourselves so far as to imitate these beastly Indians? Why do we not as well imitate them in walking naked? Yea, why do we not deny God and adore the Devil as they do?"

Tobacco, the king declares, is bad for the country, sapping the strength and willpower of young men and leaving them unfit for war. This bears comparison with the "mollicies and delicacy" that were the "wrack and overthrow" of the Roman empire. James also condemns any husband who "shall not be ashamed to reduce his delicate, wholesome and clean-complexioned wife to that extremity that either she must also corrupt her sweet breath therewith, or else resolve to live in a perpetual stinking torment". In sum, he concludes, this is "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 Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomless".

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