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Nicotine is present in many plants and foods in small quantities however the main source of recreational Nicotine is a perennial herbaceous Tobacco plant: Nicotiana tabacum.

How it All Started

Well before the arrival of Europeans to America Tobacco was in use by Native Americans. Initially it had many uses; it was smoked in pipes at ceremonies or to seal a deal etc. As uncured tobacco it was often eaten, used in enemas, drunk as extracted juice or used as a poultice. Tobacco was used in connection with religion and was also considered to be a medicine for certain ailments.


The first European smoker was Rodrigo de Jerez, he was one of the Spanish crewmen who sailed to the Americas on the Santa Maria as part of Christopher Columbus’s first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492.  In less than four decades the Spanish had introduced Tobacco to Europe where it quickly became a popular commodity.

European Control

In 1604, King James I wrote that smoking Tobacco was a “custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.”(sic). In this year a heavy protective tariff was introduced on all tobacco brought into England.

Germany had the first modern European anti-smoking campaign, the Nazi government condemned tobacco use, introduces a ‘sin’ tax on it and funded research against it. In Germany by 1941 smoking was banned in some public places because of health concerns.

Mass Production Cigarettes

In 1881 America, James Bonsack made a machine that chopped tobacco, and then dropped a certain amount of it into paper tubes, these were then rolled and cut by the machine into cigarettes. The mechanisation of cigarette production lead to exceptional growth in the number of smokers and huge profits for large tobacco companies.

Other Forms of Recreational Tobacco

Tobacco has been used in many forms, the treated leaves can be placed in the mouth and chewed or sucked. It can also be finely ground into snuff and sniffed up the nose but tobacco combustion/inhalation has always remained the most popular method of recreational tobacco use.

Cigar smokers are thought to be at the top of the ‘class scale’ followed by pipe use and finally, at the bottom, are the cigarette smokers – however despite these perceptions cigarette smoking had until recently been widely adopted and accepted throughout the socioeconomic range.

Today’s Restrictions

It might be thought of as surprising that cigarette smokers have so readily acquiesced to the regulations imposed on smoking in public places that have been introduced in many countries worldwide. The overwhelming evidence of harm from smoking has caused a steady reduction in the number of smokers. More recent studies which highlighted the dangers of ‘second-hand’ passive smoking made the habit increasingly less socially acceptable and made the restriction of public smoking almost inevitable.

Replacement therapies

Due to the widely accepted recognition that tobacco is harmful to one’s health and even worse when combusted and inhaled, many pharmaceutical products have been developed which deliver the Nicotine constituent of tobacco without poisoning the user with high doses of the other compounds that Tobacco contains. These products either supply Nicotine through the skin via a patch, or in the mouth with gums, mints, lozenges or inhalers. The aim of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is to satisfy the smokers’ desire for Nicotine while he/she breaks the ‘habit’ of smoking the Nicotine content of the NRT is then reduced to zero over time.

Unfortunately NRT products are rarely successful in aiding long term smoking cessation, with study results showing them to be little more effective than ‘cold turkey’ quitting. The dependence on, or the pleasure derived from, Nicotine is is too great to forgo for many smokers to willingly refrain.

Electronic Cigarettes

E-Cigs deliver the Nicotine that the smoker desires without many of the harmful chemicals associated with tobacco combustion. The Nicotine, in a carrier liquid, is atomised into a vapour and is inhaled, this action closely mimics the behaviour and visual feedback of smoking and delivers the Nicotine at a user controlled fluctuating level thus making them an ideal tobacco cigarette substitute. Unlike NRTs the aim of e-cigs is not to wean the user off Nicotine but to give a safer alternative method to continue using it recreationally. By preference, many e-cig users are happy to reduce the Nicotine concentration of their e-liquid over time which may culminate in the eventual discontinuation of Nicotine use.

Why We Use Recreational Nicotine

Nicotine is highly addictive, once your body has become accustomed to receiving a regular supply it craves for it to continue – this is why ‘trying out’ smoking, vaping or any other form of recreational nicotine is strongly advised against.

In small doses Nicotine acts as a stimulant. According to Wikipedia “nicotine increases the levels of several neurotransmitters acting as a sort of ‘volume control’. It is thought that increased levels of dopamine in the reward circuits of the brain are responsible for the apparent euphoria and relaxation, and addiction caused by nicotine consumption. Nicotine has a higher affinity for acetylcholine receptors in the brain than those in skeletal muscle, though at toxic doses it can induce contractions and respiratory paralysis. Nicotine’s selectivity is thought to be due to a particular amino acid difference on these receptor subtypes.”

Further Reading & Notes

The information above was mostly culled from Wikipedia to whom I offer my grateful thanks. I also recommend reading an article entitled ‘History of  Tobacco Regulation’ for more information.


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