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Tobacco Products Industry Workers

History

The use of tobacco has been traced back to Mayan cultures of nearly 2,000 years ago. As the Mayas moved north, through Central America and into North America, tobacco use spread throughout the continent. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492, he was introduced to tobacco smoking by the Arawak tribe, who smoked the leaves of the plant rolled into cigars. Tobacco seeds were brought back to Europe, where they were cultivated. The Europeans, believing tobacco had medicinal properties, quickly adopted the practice of smoking. Sir Walter Raleigh popularized pipe smoking around 1586, and soon the growing and use of tobacco spread around the world.

Tobacco growing became an important economic activity in America beginning in the colonial era, in part because of the ideal growing conditions found in many of the Southern and Southeastern colonies. Tobacco quickly became a vital part of the colonies' international trade.

Tobacco use remained largely limited to small per-person quantities until the development of cigarettes in the mid-1800s. The invention of the cigarette-making machine in 1881 made the mass production of cigarettes possible. Nevertheless, the average person smoked only 40 cigarettes per year. It was only in the early decades of the 20th century that cigarette consumption, spurred by advertising campaigns, became popular across the country. Soon, the average person smoked up to 40 cigarettes per day.

By the 1960s, it became increasingly apparent that tobacco use was detrimental to people's health. In 1969, laws were passed requiring warning labels to be placed on all tobacco products. During the 1970s, increasing agitation by the antismoking movement led to laws, taxes, and other regulations being placed on the sale and use of tobacco products. Many other countries followed with similar laws and regulations. The number of smokers dropped by as much as 30 percent, and those who still smoked, smoked less. In response, the tobacco industry introduced products such as light cigarettes and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes. In the late 1990s, the tobacco industry was at the center of debate, controversy, and subsequent state lawsuits over addictive substances and cancer-causing agents contained in cigarettes. This controversy and the declining numbers of smokers in the United States and much of the West have had a strong impact on the employment levels in the tobacco industry.

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